This book, oh this gloriously wicked and funny book, is one of my greatest pleasures. Kay Thompson was godmother to Liza (Lizaaa!) Minelli and wrote the Eloise series inspired by both the antics of Liza, and the experiences that Thompson herself had as living at the Plaza. And it is glorious.
Eloise is a furiously fabulous creation, full of stubborn humour and eccentric pleasures. And she lives. That’s such a thing for a character in a book of this nature, wrapped in long lines of text and strange sounding words, but she does – Hilary Knight’s illustrations make Eloise practically burst out from the page. And it’s a spirit you pick up right from the moment you open the page – as Eloise races out of sight and into the book.
I’ve got a bit of a thing for books of this nature, books that show us life – albeit a perhaps extreme form of life that many may not experience! – and books that show us what it can be like to be a girl and a woman. The spreads of Nanny putting on her corset for example is one of my favourite in the entire book. It’s in the loving detail of the corset, drawn with a sort of almost palpable warmth – as if it’s an old friend of Nannys which of course it is in a way!
And the relationship between Nanny and Eloise is something I particularly love as well. The whole book is coloured in this muted palette of blacks and whites and reds – reds that burn with a fiery fuschia , and then slide into the softest of muted candy stripe pinks. There’s a lot that can be said with the use of line in picture books – and if you’ve not had a look at Jane Doonan’s superb Looking at Pictures in Picture Books, you’re missing a treat. Knight’s use of line and colour in this book is outstanding.
Consider this moment between Nanny and Eloise. Eloise is so furiously present, she’s a blunt punch of colour and Nanny, quietly having a good old smoke in the background, is a quietly lovely mixture of black and whites against the candy striped gaiety of the sofa. Nanny merges with the background at points, and it’s sort of a comforting merge. It’s as if Nanny is so solid in Eloise’s life, so rooted, that she is just there. And she will always be there.
There’s something to be said about the construction of this image as well; the TV throws light onto Nanny and Eloise and casts a brief, flickering shadow on the wall. Nothing else beyond this couch matters because, in a way, nothing else exists. It’s all about Nanny and Eloise, and their contentment both in the moment and each other. Eloise, exuberant though she’s technically still, holds an umbrealla and you can almost feel her twirling it, and dangling her feet off the end of the couch. She’s so in this moment, so very very present, that it’s an amazingly palpable moment to witness.
Eloise is one of those books that lets you do everything you always wanted. It lets you ride the lifts up and down and press for the highest floor when you really only want the first – and it’s all just because you can, and because you want to. It’s a book of wish-fulfilment, of furious id, of glorious vivid living in the moment because right now the moment’s all that matters.