My rating: 5 of 5 stars
So I have a little story about how I came to Mouse Bird Snake Wolf. I originally came to it via Netgalley and as I am a huge fan of David Almond, I requested it and got approved. So I downloaded a copy and then through a substantial amount of user ineptitude, managed to make it unreadable. I know, right? An Achievement And A Half. However, when you’re as struck by the previous pairing of Almond and McKean as I was (seriously, go check out the wild magnificence that is The Savage,) and you’re that struck by a front cover (the front cover of Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is to die for) and synopsis, you make an effort to get hold of the book (and you make a determined effort to get hold of it in a format you cannot cack up).
So I did. And lo, it was good. Very, very good. Outstanding, even, because the thing about David Almond is that he is not afraid of being dangerous. He writes darkness very well, that insidious present darkness, the sadness and pain that hangs around every day things, but he also writes wonder. He writes stories of surmounting the darkness, of climbing that hill, of waving and not drowning. He writes stories of victory, of humanity, and of life.
I love David Almond. Can you tell? I love that he writes stories that challenge and confound and make me never quite know what comes next. And Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is full of that, it’s full of surprises. Threaded around what is a very simple, straightforward plot of children imagining things which are not in their world, are moments of utter beauty, rammpant danger and stark darkness. It is Quite Something.
The artwork of McKean though is something very special too. There’s a Dali-esque feel to some of his panels, that sort of blurring of reality and imagination, colours burning, images merging, and slightly too long limbs that don’t feel grotesque but feel somehow balletic and graceful. He’s very painterly in this, and it’s something quite special. I loved his ‘transformation’ scenes where the children imagine the new things. The children ‘look inside’ themselves, and the images come from a dark part of their thoughts and are borne to life through the power of their imagination. The wolf panel itself is a genuinely unnerving moment and it’s worthwhile, if you’re sharing this or recommending it to younger readers, to take a second and look at this moment yourself.
There’s a quote on this book which sums up everything about David Almond, and it’s one worth repeating here. “There really is nobody quite like Almond writing fiction today” (The Times). There’s not. There’s really not. David Almond is one of a kind.