Page 45 Review by Stephen
Whopping collection reprinting the majority of the SOCK MONKEY series - 300 pages in both colour and black and white - which started out so innocently that we thought it was aimed at children. Whoops! Even early on, Dominique had her suspicions. She wrote:
I love the setting: a large turn-of-the-century house full of colonial nick-knacks and potential death traps, living dolls houses and miniature galleons, bristling with wee little guns. It's twee comedy with a darker edge - Uncle Gabby and Mr. Crow are sweet but meddlesome and idiotic, and nothing they embark upon ever seems to end well. The faux colonial / Victorian dialogue at first put me off, but actually it works very well, reinforcing the oblivious stupidity of our heroes and injecting the necessary dose of morbidity. Pity the poor creature that these two try to help out, it can only end in evisceration, immolation or shipwreck.
Not sure I'd give either of these books to my children unless I wanted them to grow up all weird in the head.
So yeah, actually, maybe I would.
For the The Glass Doorknob I appear to have gone off on one about the colours.
It's the colours. Every single page, elegantly composed and delicately drawn, radiates warmth. From the first spring morning, throwing its soft light across the gables of the toys' wooden-roofed house and through the misty, pink-purple mass of the huge, pendulous tree behind it, to the blustery autumn afternoon, when the winds toss the vermilion and russet leaves up into the cold blue sky, swirling them away from the windows, this picture book delivers page after page of understated beauty.
Nor is it easy to discern just which media have been employed: some colours are flat tones, others appear to have been applied in washes and perhaps sponged out, whilst others, like the sage wallpaper behind the cream mantelpiece which Sock Monkey climbs in summer, must surely have been patterned by computer - I can't see a stencil providing such regular or intricate shapes. Finally, there's the linework which delineates each major area with a crisp, darker hue, never, thankfully, with the use of a ruler.
I've stared at some of these for ages. Which is just as well since this is a storybook with a simple, single thread and as such it's not a huge read, even if there's a second exchange between a tit and a beetle, running in parallel as the seasons change, in the bottom left-hand corner of the text pages. The main affair follows Sock Monkey and his friends as they discover - and quickly become transfixed by - the magic of a spectral light cast by a glass doorknob in the hall. But as summer approaches and the trees become thicker, the sunlight is obscured and the refracted rainbow disappears. The toys, unaware of how these things work, believe it is broken and, in a naive attempt to boost its power, they set about scavenging baubles and metal dishes, glass jars, bottles and necklaces, and tie them around the doorknob...
The "Inches" Incident
More chaos and catastrophe on the high seas as Sock Monkey, Mr. Crow and indeed their very house come under fire from an Inches turned evil.
Inches is the doll, and they're horrible at the best of times but this one seriously creeps me out. She's like a vampiric version of Playschool's hideous Hamble, glaring implacably down from the mansion's gable. It's as if she's possessed! Oh wait, she is! But by what?
Tony's got a thing about insect infestation/animation, and I like it no more than I like hideous dollies. Brrrr.
Sock Monkey volumes 3 & 4
Quite the evolution going on. Previously you could sit back safe in the knowledge that Tony's MAAKIES was a sick little puppy whilst SOCK MONKEY would remain a child-friendly Bagpuss gone wrong. But any child encountering these tales of woe is going to have some sinister dreams ahead of them.
It starts out ominously enough when Uncle Gabby, the titular toy, decides to go a-hunting. Tigers and foxes and even herons seem a little overambitious, so they plump for salamanders instead.
"Salamanders! I believe I could "take" a salamander! Just show me the salamander that could get the better of me!"
But over this smile-inducing, child-like silliness the skies quickly darken, as Gabby grows increasingly aware of the fragility of life, and the dark and naughty humour finally bursts wide open in a downpour of despair once Gabby carelessly breaks the neck of a nestling. The pages of silence - cold and bleak - are thoroughly arresting, and the self-mutilation as Gabby shears himself open is no less shocking for him being stuffed full of fluff.
"The tragedy is that it once had life, and now I have taken it away... I only wish I were alive, that I might have the ability to run to the comfort of death."
And if you think that's morbid, wait till you read the final chapter in which Mr. Crow is persuaded to dump the love of the Sock Monkey's life into the rag-man's truck, sending Uncle Gabby into a homicidal spree of mass immolation worthy of underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson.
Finally, Sock Monkey: Uncle Gabby
Feels like the SOCK MONKEY swansong, in the last Winnie The Pooh tale fashion. Was this ever for children, or did I read it all wrong? Externally it's so very inviting; internally it's still very pretty. Going to read the words now
? Please remove all razor blades from your domicile.
Uncle Gabby has studied "un-naming" in order to free objects of their constrictions. He embarks on a journey with fellow stuffed animal Mr. Crow and the hideous doll called Inches to visit Ann-Louise who originally made him. But the house they find is completely deserted with a stone monument in the back garden, and all of Uncle Gabby's memories unravel as the fantasies they were, and then someone smashes the house in anyway.
It's almost funny, it's so unremittingly harsh.