Sunday, 22 January 2012
The Midnight Kittens by Dodie Smith
Something of an oddity, The Midnight Kittens was first published when Dodie Smith was 82, when it came out as the same time as the second volume of her autobiography, Look Back with Mixed Feelings. I suspect it works best for the generation for whom 101 Dalmatians was a newly published book - they'll be able to read and revisit their childhoods. For children now, the headmaster whose methods are "modern" and based on counselling theory, and the twins' school, will seem odd, and the hippy squatters will be an anachronism in a time when travellers are mostly feared and despised.
It's the story of Tom and Pam's half-term visit to the grandmother who has cared for them since the death of their parents, and the four kittens who come to eat the food put out for the hedgehogs. It's a very slight story and its brevity makes it seem unnecessarily hysterical, I'm afraid. A more leisured pace would have allowed some time to put the children's fears for the kittens into perspective, while also foregrounding the adventure which follows their meeting with the past owner of Freke Hall.
The book's real magic now is in the enchanting illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. However, it might be rather nice for reading aloud, and perhaps there are still old-fashioned little girls who would enjoy reading it for themselves.