Page 45 Review by Stephen
These tides are really weird, said the boy. Its not like this at Cromer.
A young boy hops on board a boat bobbing on the water and captained by a bear. He asks to be taken to the other side.
Right you are, said the bear.
Hes as confident as the lad is vague, neatly setting the scene for nearly three hundred pages of magically illustrated mirth as the pair find themselves all at sea and struggling to land either a fish or themselves.
Its a book about learning to keep friends afloat in the wake of adversity and in the wake of absurdity too. Faith, confidence and improvisation: pulling together instead of falling out and, as a consequence, falling apart. Thinking of others instead of yourself and jollying each other along!
Shelton manages all of the above with a touch as gentle as the giant of a bears. With little land in sight throughout the entire book, he nails the boys cross-patch frustration at the bears evasive optimism, and then the boys petulance and remorse. Oh, how we find it difficult to apologise! Its also a book written by a man whose childhood was spent a long time before videogames and other portable distractions or in-flight entertainment.
Are we nearly there yet? said the boy.
We are well on our way, said the bear.
And thats just page fifteen. Theres so much more you will recognise from childhood, like the fun to be had on a bright summers day, messing about colours and the light behind closed eyelids. He liked the greeny blue the best, but it was difficult to hold on to for long. I myself bounced spectral amoebas up and down my eyelids all day long. Still unsure if they existed.
With limited resources our duo try their hands at fishing, first with a fly (oh, all right, a tuft of the poor bears fur plucked while his bottom was turned), then with live bait and then oh, dear they really are going to bite off more than they can chew! Here theyre down to one last sarnie, and the bears previous combos (sprout and honey; anchovy, banana and custard; broccoli, sherbet and gooseberry) have been eccentric at best.
The boy looked at the proffered sandwich. He noticed that the bear was holding it rather gingerly in the tips of two claws and right at the corner. Despite this, the bread did not bend at all. The boy looked up at the bear. He looked back at the sandwich. It was very difficult to tell what colour it was by moonlight, but whatever colour it was didnt seem right.
Whats in it? said the boy again.
I cant remember, said the bear.
Well, open it up and take a look, said the boy.
I cant, said the bear. Its stuck.
The boy looked up at the bear. The bear smiled thinly down at the boy. They both looked back at the sandwich.
said the boy.
What? said the bear.
only a bit, but is it
No, said the bear.
They each squinted at the sandwich and leaned in (cautiously) to look more closely.
Hardly at all, said the bear.
We rarely stock anything other than comics at Page 45, but this prose is a wonder and Ill be buying it for adults instead. Plus our Dave won my heart by including a comic within and reminding us how, when we were young, we would pore over them time and time again when we had so very few, savouring their strangeness even if we hadnt a clue what was going on. But back to the future, and the bear has it all in hand.
Bored, eh? Well, I suppose youd better try the complimentary on-board entertainment then, said the bear.
On-board entertainment? said the boy, smiling expectantly.
Oh yes, said the bear. Youll love this.
He really doesnt.