Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of the author Russell Hoban. To adult readers he is probably best known for his iconic science fiction classic, Riddley Walker, which I am ashamed to say I have never read. For me he is the darling of my heart for inventing the truly glorious Frances, the small badger with a heart of gold and a penchant for rhymes and mischief. I had all the Frances stories as a child and read and re-read them incessantly. I saved them for my own children and read them in the same manner. We all love them.
Hoban’s books for children are diverse and strange. He has a finely honed sense of whimsy and a surreal delight in story telling that makes each tale vivid and magical. The Marzipan Pig is a short book which has all the charm of the Frances stories and which has a poetry that will please even the most stern hearted of adult readers.
The Marzipan Pig does indeed tell the story of a marzipan pig, which somehow or other gets mislaid and dropped behind a sofa. The pig lies there for weeks, lamenting its fate, hoping that someone, anyone will come and rescue it. It cannot believe that someone is not missing its sweetness.
It lies there, lonely until it hears what it believes is its rescuer. It turns out to be a hungry mouse, drawn to the sweet smell of the pig. The mouse eats the pig, and as it swallows the last mouthful it is infected with the same lonely longing as the pig, pining to be loved and discovered by someone who cares for it. It fixates on the grandfather clock in the corner, believing it is talking only to her with its ticking, telling the time of its love.
This love and longing spread like a virus throughout the story, prompting the oddest of creatures, animate and inanimate to do the most peculiar things in pursuit of and in demonstration of love. An owl falls in love with a taxi meter, a bee woos a drooping hibiscus flower and so on, until the story moves around to another mouse and another marzipan pig, bringing the tale full circle.
This is a beautifully written story, and my version, as a Puffin paperback, has wonderful illustrations by Quentin Blake to accompany it. It is a short read but it is gorgeous and so full of meaning and wit and delight you could read it over and over again and find new things to discover and say about it. I thought it was utterly charming.
It would work for older readers aged 7-10, and would make a terrific bed time story for younger readers to share with a parent or in class with a teacher over a few days. It is probably a story that would appeal more to girls than boys, although with younger readers, as it shares many of the elements of a picture book I would risk it with boys and see how they take it. It’s a shame it is so little known because it really is a treasure.