It wasn’t until Judith Kerr’s death this year that I put together the author of the classic picture books The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog series with the author of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, a book I was captivated by as an older child. While I still remember parts of Pink Rabbit vividly, I’ve got only the foggiest recollection of any of Kerr’s picture books and no conscious memories of experiencing these for the first time. It was a delight to rediscover Mog the Forgetful Cat with my own daughter and although much of it was far beyond her comprehension at fourteen months, there’s a lot here she appreciates even now.
As for me, I consider Mog a masterpiece in narrative structure. Kerr’s plot and pacing is impeccable, each word and illustrative detail purposeful. Mog’s forgetfulness is not incidental but is rather the crux of the entire story, which romps along to a satisfying conclusion. I’ve read umpteen books on how to write a novel but next time I attempt to structure my WIP I’m just going to come back to Mog and try to follow exactly what Kerr does.
Mog is the wordiest of all the books E owns so far, and unlike most of them the story here requires a certain level of intelligent deduction. There are several pages where the words alone don’t explain what’s happening – we are told that Mog falls asleep on a chair and dreams she is a bird, and then when she wakes Mrs Thomas is annoyed. The reader also has to consider the illustration, which shows Mog sleeping on top of Mrs Thomas’ hat, which is then squashed and torn. (Is it strange that even as an adult it feels gratifying to work out what’s going on by connecting the words and the pictures? I’m sure I’ve read some thrillers recently which have been less intellectually taxing than this.) I imagine that the different levels to the book will give us lots to discuss even when E is a few years older.
The language is simple but the sentence structure is almost poetic, with considered repetition of key words and phrases, such as the charmingly retro ‘Bother that cat!’ There’s a nostalgic feel throughout – this is a universe of clunky black and white TV sets, milkmen and policemen in proper hats. After being thwarted in his robbery attempt – SPOILER – the burglar even enjoys a cup of tea with the Thomas family and the bobby. Perhaps more incredible is that he was stealing an alarm clock and some cutlery. I do realise that proper, actual adults own silver, or did in the 70s anyway, but I still can’t fathom how this thief could possibly be making a decent living wage if this is the extent of his typical takings.
The illustrations are lovely – E likes each and every drawing of Mog, and the double-page image of Debbie’s dream, with the tiger and the monkey in the tree. She always wants to skip over the page where Mog is sad and alone in the dark garden, which I fondly imagine is because of her sensitivity to this powerful moment of despair.
I do worry about Mr Thomas. I can’t help but feel that darker truths could be lurking beneath the comfortable veneer of this happy landscape. Mr Thomas appears careworn, with bags under his eyes and a distinctly dishevelled mode of dress. His cheeks surely are a bit on the red side – the effect of excessive alcohol consumption? Could his insistence on watching the fight on television and his extreme reaction to Mog’s tail over the screen be a clue to what is going on? I suspect gambling addiction and spiralling debt. Even his reaction to the burglar is suspect – we are told that Mrs Thomas acts immediately to call the police, while the children rally around Mog. Mr Thomas seems immobilised, either too enfeebled by his previous night of drinking, or perhaps even in league with the burglar, in some complicated insurance scam….
There really is something for everyone here. We don’t yet own any others in the series, but I feel compelled to buy the next. Check in again to read more thoughts on Mog’s future adventures and the fate of Mr Thomas.