I chose this book at the library in a state of incipient panic, grimly determined that the outing would bear tangible fruit, whilst juggling an increasingly enraged baby. I knew it was several reading levels above her ability to comprehend, but I thought the name was cute and the cover looked charming! You would think after living over thirty years and reading many books both for children and for adults I would have grasped that the old adage exists for a reason. Covers mislead. And what’s more, even blurbs can be outright deceptive. The back of Fluffywuffy claims: ‘Kids will love this darkly funny story with a brilliant mischievous twist!’
Well, yes. That description’s accurate, as long as out-and-out murder is your opinion of a hilarious surprise in a book for toddlers. To backtrack, Fluffywuffy is a small pet of indeterminate breed, owned by the rather wishy-washy Mr Moot. The first page obliquely warns of Fluffywuffy’s nature by telling us that ‘Mr Moot lives a quiet life’ and showing various bothersome people running from the house. (In keeping with many great works of literature, the sinister undertones of this opening can only fully be appreciated in retrospect.) Mr Moot has a cousin who turns up unannounced for a visit and who proves to enjoy noisy nocturnal activities*, to the enragement of Fluffywuffy. *Not a euphemism, part of the insanity of this book is the way it remains child-friendly up until that afore-mentioned twist.
As with many horror novels, the terror creeps up on the reader. Repetition is utilised to build up a sense of dread: the sentence ‘Fluffywuffy said nothing’ reoccurs on each page, as the cousin becomes more and more irritating. The illustrations of Fluffywuffy add to the ominous tone by showing his/her eyebrows progressively lowering, the only hint as to the darkness within his/her soul.
The climax is truly unexpected. Mr Moot awakes to silence from his cousin, and a missing Fluffywuffy. The penultimate illustration shows Fluffywuffy in monstrous silhouettes – his mouth, which has until this point been pursed shut in a moue of disapproval, wide and gaping with dreadful teeth. The cousin has disappeared, leaving behind him his half-eaten belongings. The book ends with Fluffywuffy resplendent on a pile of nibbled clothes, grinning an enormous, eerie grin. It’s remarkable how little ambiguity there is here. It’s abundantly clear that the cousin has been eaten – there’s not even the option of diplomatically discussing with your child whether another interpretation is possible.
That blurb continues to amaze me – I love the blithe use of the phrase ‘brilliant mischief’, as if rather than drawing on the floor with crayons, my child might in act of naughty playfulness kill somebody instead. I do think there is something darkly compelling about this story, and perhaps if I had an older child with a robust outlook on the world and a well-developed sense of irony my take on it would be different. Maybe my reaction is too prudish, driven by a desire for my precious firstborn to experience only nice stories, the tales which are truly fluffy. Even so, having already traumatised her with Scarface Claw, I’m not taking any risks. Fluffywuffy has gone back to the library and there it will stay.