Friday, October 06, 2006

The Voyage of QV 66 - Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively's The Voyage of QV 66 (now sadly out of print), is an unusual book for her as it's a dystopian which sees the whole Earth flooded (at least so the reader assumes from some newspaper headlines that are mentioned in passing: Prime Minister Assures Nation No Call For Alarm on Flood Warnings, Pope Prays for Divine Intervention, America and Russia to Organise World Evacuation to Mars) and abandoned by people.

More importantly however, Stanley, doesn't know what sort of animal he is, so he and his friends set out on a quest to discover his identity. What follows is an adventure in which the animals - Freda the cow, Pansy the kitten, Ned the horse, Offa the pigeon, and Pal the dog (who narrates the story) - travel across England from Carlisle to London Zoo, via a number of towns and cities, where Stanley believes he will find the answer to what kind of animal he is. There is never a dull moment as they voyage south aboard the QV66, meeting various interesting characters (and sometimes some dangerous ones too) along the way. Not only do they lose Pansy the cat when she takes off in an improvised hot air balloon, they also meet a huge aristocratic eagle, a regimental parrot named Major Trumpington-Smith, and a pack of very unfriendly dogs in Manchester.

This is a funny and touching adventure story that tells of friendship, exploration and discovery. The animals in it are portrayed with some very recognisable human characteristics (especially Stanley), and the mix of personalities provides an entertaining basis for the story. Pal's narrative has a dry, ironic tone that proves him to be a natural storyteller. The tale is somewhat reminiscent of Jerome K Jerome's famous tale of a river journey, Three Men in a Boat, but is a lot more fun.

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