'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 2 May 2016

Review: The Road to Ratenburg

Even at 80 years old, Joy Cowley proves that she still has the ability to create a marvellous story. The Road to Ratenburg is a glorious and clever adventure story with rats as characters.  It is narrated by Spinnaker Rat whose whiskers twitch whenever danger is near, and who is head of a family of four with Greek alphabet names. His wife Retsina has a preference for Mediterranean food.

The rat family’s life as they knew it comes to a sudden end when demolition begins of the apartment block where they live. It is seen as the great migration; a necessary but dangerous venture into the unknown.

After Spinnaker escapes with his life thanks to the pesky and irritating Jolly Roger, they set out together on the long journey to the legendary Ratenburg where it is said the Piper of Hamelin led all the rats. No rat has ever returned to confirm the tale so Spinnaker is wary of undertaking this journey. With only a tentative map that leads to the first mountain, the travellers must find their own way. They are driven onward by the hope of a new start and safety from harm, in a land where rats are welcome.

It is an arduous journey. The group is confronted by giant eels, dogs that hunt rats, the Bottomless Bog, and a life-threatening trek through the Forest of Perilous Pines. Regardless of all the heart-breaking difficulties they experience, they continue on undeterred to what to the rats, is the Promised Land.

It appears to me that this story has two levels. It could be a story of adventure about a family of rats. I saw it as a metaphor for all the people that have left their homes and country because of some disaster beyond their control; that faced hardships and sacrificed everything familiar to reach a new place of safety to call home. If this was not the author’s intention, then this book was unconsciously a stunning creation at both levels.

Note: I couldn’t leave it there. I was curious to discover if my interpretation was correct. Here is Joy Cowley’s reply: ‘Ratenburg is an extended parable, and parables are very flexible; they tend to meet the reader’s expectations of meaning. For me, there was the understanding, that while we seek perfection, nothing in this world is ever perfect, and it’s the trials and hardships that we do not seek, that give us life skills and equip us to live in a less than perfect world. But the story may be interpreted other ways by readers. Anastasia’s interpretation is certainly valid’.

Title: The Road to Ratenburg
Author: Joy Cowley
Illustrator: Gavin Bishop
Publisher: Gecko Press, $19.99 RRP
Publication Date: 17 February 2016
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781776570751
For ages: 9+
Type: Junior Fiction