Teddy One Eye
Book review by Trevor Agnew
Teddy One-Eye (2014) Gavin Bishop (text & ill) Random House, Auckland NZ, 218 pages, hardback, ISBN 978 1 77553 727 4
Teddy One-Eye is in many ways a sequel to Gavin Bishop’s entertaining memoir of his 1950s childhood, Piano Rock (2008). This time, however, there is a different perspective and a different narrator. Teddy One-Eye tells his own story of his life with Boy, beginning in 1950 when “He lifted me out of the box and hugged me.” What follows is an ursine view of a young boy’s life, first in Invercargill and then in Kingston on the southern shore of Lake Wakatipu. Teddy (or more properly Edward K. Bear) is an acute observer. His eyes, made of “shiny brown glass with flecks of gold,” see everything and his other senses are equally acute. “My perky ears sat straight up on top of my head and listened to everything being said even if it was being whispered behind a closed door.” What follows is a unique vision of childhood, where a tricycle trip to the aviary in the Botanic Gardens is an adventure and a bulldog is a ravening monster.
Life is tough for a teddy bear, especially one who faces the double jeopardy of the bear-napping dog from the pub, and the newly arrived baby brother (BB). Small wonder that Chapter 5 is movingly entitled ‘The First Patches.’ The story of how Teddy lost his eye is a delightful surprise. “Once again Boy blushed brighter than the electric coal fire.”
It slowly emerges that Teddy has a history that goes back before 1950, and it is Boy’s daughter who makes the poignant discovery. Like many other teddies, our narrator is passed down the generations and even spends several years wearing a dress. Then there are ‘the wardrobe years’ where he was ‘out of sight, forgotten, asleep, hibernating.’ Amusing time-lines cover these years, pointing out key events, mostly bear-related. Luckily Teddy had learned to read when Boy’s grandmother was reading to them from Alice B. Emerson’s Ruth Fielding and the Gypsies, so he was able to spot occasional headlines: ‘1969: Neil Armstrong took a teddy bear to the moon.’
It has to be conceded that Teddy One-Eye is a better storyteller than Gavin Bishop, providing more humour and excitement. Some may argue that some of the bear’s tales, such as the accidental kidnapping of Boy’s grandmother may have been exaggerated. Fortunately human narrative rules don’t apply to bears. (Besides Teddy points out Gavin Bishop’s own errors several times. “He was getting it all wrong. His memory was letting him down.”)
Luckily Gavin Bishop’s artistic skills remain unimpaired, so the colour illustrations showing the changing appearance of Teddy form charming chapter headings.
This is a joyous and subtle story, both funny and moving.
16 Sep 2014