My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“It was Mrs May who first told me about them. No, not me. How could it have been me – a wild, untidy, self-willed little girl who stared with angry eyes and was said to crunch her teeth? Kate, she should have been called. Yes, that was it – Kate. Not that the name matters much either way: she barely comes into the story.”
This tonally, thematically, textually, totally, perfect paragraph is the opening to the seminal classic ‘The Borrowers’. And it has given us everything. The perfect usage of a colon. The perfect side-stepping of reality into imagination. That – that, doubt, that everything is quite how it should be in what is to come.
And so we begin. The Borrowers are very very small people who live underneath floorboards and behind the kitchen clock. They live alongside their ‘human beans’, not stealing from them but borrowing. A potato here. A piece of blotting paper there. A pin. A tuft from the carpet. Things so small that they won’t be missed because their owners will think that they’ve just lost them. An odd sock. Scissors. A hair clip. You know it. We’ve all done it. Maybe you’ve got Borrowers too …?
These Borrowers live in isolation, underneath the floorboards. Father Pod, mother Homily and their daughter Arietty borrow from their human beans and it all goes well for a while. But then things start to change. They are the last borrowers to live in their house. And the house itself is changing.
A boy has come to live in the house, to recuperate and to get well. He is a boy who believes in fairies. In magic. And one day he ‘sees’ Arietty.
Being seen is the worst thing that can happen to a Borrower. Being seen never leads to anything good happening.
In fact it can lead to very bad things happening.
Norton’s book is timeless. It is terrifying, too, and doesn’t skim over the darkness of humanity. It is witty, sharp and kind. It is such a luscious book, really, and it is one that captures that moment when the teenager wants to be somebody in their own right quite perfectly.
Also, though I won’t reproduce the ending here, it has one of the cleverest and most perfect endings I have read for a while. It is a book that is very quietly massive. And I love it, really, I love that wild acceptance of something else existing in the world, I love that blurring of the edges of real and imaginary space, I love that – potential for ‘otherness’ – that Norton gives the reader. It is such a book this.