My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve never been the timeliest of book bloggers.
A part of that stems from the books that I love; those richly layered books that speak of a classical sensibility and timeless potency, and those books about girls at boarding schools in Austria. I read books from 1901 alongside those from 2015, and I love to find the dialogues between them. The ties of literature. The golden ties of British children’s literature. The building blocks of our national literary voice.
I heard about Mango and Bambang a long time ago and I was thrilled. Intensely, madly, because I was lucky enough to know both Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy online and I was, and am, a fan of their work. Vulliamy’s work is something I have blogged about before, for her art is nuanced and clever, subtle and generous, a frank delight in every page. Rich, too, with the layered detail present in them, and that clever, clever eye towards the reader. Always. A consciousness of the view and artwork that revels in such. I love her work, truly. In Mango and Bambang, Vulliamy illustrates four deliciously sized stories from Polly Faber, a blogger who I’ve similarly admired for a while. Faber’s generous and lovely and rich writing is a delight.
And so, to this book, which I was both gleeful over and mildly terrified, because I wondered in that British way of always seeing the best in things : what if I didn’t like it?
But I did.
Oh reader, how I did. How to begin to describe this package of utter loveliness, of a charming and warmly detailed friendship between a lonely girl and a tapir? Mango and Bambang is ferociously eccentric, rather brilliantly so, but through that eccentricity carves itself a space that makes me think of E Nesbit and Dodie Smith, and I love that. I love that little tingle on the back of my spine that makes me think of golden age authors, because then I know that I like this book. I like it a lot.
I like the honesty of Faber’s writing; the sympathetic, warm, honesty of it. The introduction of Mango, talks about her being busy because “being busy was important, living in a very busy city, full of other busy people being good at things / Because otherwise Mango might have been a little bit lonely”. Listen to that. Say it out loud. Books live in the mind but they also live in the voice, in that little stuttering sliding truth at the end of that quote. Truth says itself, and oh Faber gets that. She also gets the rich delicious humour at the heart of any friendship between a girl and a tapir: “Mango and Bambang hid, not terribly successfully, behind a lamppost”
The dialogue between text and image is wonderful; exuberant in some points, where Mango barks orders at the frenetic cityscape, and poignant at others, intensely so, when Mango stands in spotlighted isolation and the words are almost pushed off page because there isn’t enough space for them: “She looked / smaller than / usual on / her own / under the / lights.” It’s small stuff, but God, it’s clever.
I suspect I’m burbling. I would burble more if I gave you this review in person. If I did, I’d pull your attention to the moment where Bambang wears Mango’s spare swimming hut and show you potentially the most beautiful and loving sketch of a proud, slightly self-conscious but very much loving his life, tapir. Possibly the only example of such in existence, but when it’s this good, why seek for competition?
I’ve never been the timeliest of book bloggers. I heard about Mango and Bambang a long time ago, and I loved it then, and I think I might marry it now.
This book is good. So, so, utterly perfectly so. It’s golden.