Sunday, February 11, 2007

Framed - Frank Cottrell Boyce

Frank Cottrell Boyce's Framed is on the Cybils Middle Grade fiction shortlist, so I heard about it via one or other (or more) of the Cybils panellists' Blogs, and it sounded good so I snagged it from the library and finally read it on Friday. It's interesting that I really enjoyed this funny book, despite the fact it's largely about art, cars and football - none of which hold much interest for me!

The narrator, Dylan, is the only boy living in a tiny Welsh town named Manod. His parents run the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel garage, and when he's not trying to find someone with whom to play football, Dylan is in charge of the petrol log. This means he keeps track of everyone coming in and out of Manod: what car they drive, their names, even their favourite snacks. But when a mysterious convoy of lorries makes the trek up the misty mountain road towards an old, disused mine, even Dylan is baffled. Who are these people? And what are they hiding?

This is a story inspired by the true story of how, during World War II, the contents of the National Gallery in London were stored in Welsh slate mines. Once a month, a morale-boosting masterpiece would be unveiled in the village, then returned to London for viewing. Boyce sets his story in the not-too-distant future where London has been flooded, so the nation's favourite paintings have been evacuated to the mines of Manod. When the man in charge of the project to keep the paintings safe, learns that Dylan has named their two chickens after two of the most famous painters in the world, he assumes that Dylan is also an art fan (having failed to ever encounter the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo). Blinded by his belief that Dylan is an art-appreciating prodigy, Quentin Lester fails to realise the effect that seeing some of the paintings has on various of the townsfolk: including intricate still life window displays, a psychedelic parade of umbrellas (it practically always rains in Manod, which may explain why the crime rate is so low), and the re-opening of the town's boating lake.

This is a funny and touching exploration of how Art - its beauty and its value - touches the life of one little boy and his big family in a very small town.

Framed is also available from - buy, beg or borrow a copy from somewhere and enjoy a very funny book.

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