Sunday, February 15, 2009

Review of The Bundle at Blackthorpe Heath by Mark Copeland

The Bundle at Blackthorpe Heath by Mark Copeland (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

Not only is this not a full-fledged review, but it’s hardly a review at all, more a few comments on a curious little book from a few years back. I’m not even sure how I heard about it – perhaps a fellow blogger raved about it or it appeared on a “best of” list that I’m only now getting around to.

The enigmatic title intrigued me first off; it seems that a bundle is a fight, battle, or brouhaha in this world. And a strange world it is, too. Although it takes place in what seems to be England, there are no mammals or reptiles at all. All animals are insects, quite large ones at that (ladybugs are knee-high and snails are as big as small elephants), and they live among humans in roles that range from those of typical animals (ladybugs and woodlice are treated as pets, snails pull large carts, etc) to servants (flies serve as low-class employees at circuses).

The plot is so slight and beside the point that I won’t even go into it. What is intriguing are the relationships between insects and humans – I spent a lot of time dwelling on the sociological and philosophical aspects of it all. If these insects can talk and think, why are they being treated like animals? Do they get eaten by humans or other insects, and wouldn’t that be fairly horrifying? Why are some insects pets and others more autonomous? What makes humans the masters over everyone else, with flies being second-class citizens?

These burning questions aside, I was enchanted by Rufus the loyal and intrepid ladybug and by Sylvia the lisping mama snail. The two human kids, Art and Daisy, remained a bit two-dimensional for me, but the villainous flies were delightfully bad. The author (who, according to the backflap, “tours the country entertaining the public with his ‘Grand Travelling Insect Circus Museum and Peep-Show Mechanical Menagerie’” – huh?!) drew the illustrations, which depict all manner of insect characters in loving detail but in which the humans are rather stiff.

Not a sure-fire winner by any means (many folks will be put off by the mannered language), but recommended those who desire a quick and quirky read. Grades 4 and up.

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