The Twenty Elephant Restaurant by Russell Hoban is an absolute delight. It is made even more delightful by stellar illustrations by Quentin Blake, and was altogether a joy to read.
I sometimes think I have come to the end of Hoban’s output, and then every now and again I discover some new treasure, and it makes me very happy. I know there will come a day when this no longer happens, but I’m hoping it won’t be for years and years yet.
You can never be entirely sure what you’re going to get when you read him. He can be whimsical and charming, but at other times he can be very profound and magical. This story, is my favourite sort. It’s downright bonkers with absolutely silly ideas that just make you laugh and laugh.
The story starts with a man and a woman sitting down to dinner. They are old, they have been married for a very long time. The man sighs. The woman asks him what the matter is, and he tells her that the table they are eating their dinner at is wearing him out. It is wearing him out because it is wonky.
His wife decides that it is indeed wearing him out. She entreats him to make a new table. She reminds him that when they first bought the table together they were young. Now they are not. He says that it is not unusual to expect that they wouldn’t be. They bought the table fifty years ago. She says that this is nonsense. She says that if they had a new table, he would be fifty years younger.
He sets out to build a new table. It takes years, and in those years they expand on the theme, building an entire restaurant, and staffing it with twenty, agile, dancing elephants. The joy of the story is how one slightly off beat idea spawns another until their logic seems irrefutable, even though the evidence is that they are all mad.
The madness is beautifully brought to life by Blake’s energetic, humour filled illustrations.
A glorious book to share with a class or your family. It would also make a great transitional or chapter book for the aspiring reader. I recommend it to girls and boys aged 7-10 to read alone, and anyone you fancy to read with.