Friday, 21 March 2008

Down the Back of the Chair

DOWN THE BACK OF THE CHAIR Margaret Mahy, Walker Books, 32 pages, hardback, NZ $29.95.
ISBN 1-84507-440-8

One of the great advantages of living in Canterbury is that you have a much better chance of seeing and hearing Margaret Mahy perform some of her amazing poems, such as Bubble Trouble and Down the Back of the Chair. Her early experience of comic recitation and song – she has memorised all of Gilbert and Sullivan – has given Mahy a splendid sense of rhythm and rhyme, not mention outrageous juxtaposition. I have heard her perform Down the Back of the Chair three times to magnificent effect.
In this epic a family faces debt, despair (and lost car keys) until young Mary suggests looking you know where. At first only conventional things are found: “Pineapple peel and a conger eel” but then surprising objects emerge from the depths. “A skink, a skunk, a skate, a ski, a couple of elephants drinking tea.”
Finally Father’s penultimate discovery brings ecstasy and prosperity to his family, and pleasure to the reader. Polly Dunbar’s exuberant ink and watercolour drawings produce an equally exuberant explosion of discoveries from down the back of the chair.
This is one book that the whole family can read aloud.

Trevor Agnew

This review first appeared in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on 16th September 2006.

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