By A.F. Harrold
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 3033 1
If you are in the mood to read the book with the year's longest title so far, look no further. Meet Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away From the Circus (And Joined the Library).
Yet wait a moment: isn't that the wrong way round? Don't youngsters in stories run away from other places, such as unhappy homes and schools, to join the circus?
However, Fizzlebert Stump is no ordinary boy, and running away from the circus is exactly what he does. The title of A.F. Harrold's laugh-packed debut novel tells you exactly what happens to his hero after he makes his escape: he joins a library.
Harrold is a performance poet, and his day job is evident after reading this book. The quick-fire, chatty narrative reads as if he is performing it aloud to you alone.
The author even puts his own first-person comments and asides into the text, which swing between being funny and annoying. But it's all in the name of light entertainment, and the novel's quirky humour and odd-ball hero hit the target.
Fizzlebert lives with his clown mother and strong-man father in lion-tamer Captain Fox-Dingle's travelling circus. He doesn't have to go to school like other boys: Madame Plume de Matant, the fortune teller, teaches him French, the acrobats teach him geography and Dr Surprise, the mind reader, teaches him history.
Yet it can be a bit lonely as the only child in a circus: hanging around with clowns and acrobats and putting your head into a lion's mouth each night can get tedious. Fizzlebert longs for some company his own age and wonders what life is like outside the Big Top.
One night he chats to a group of youths visting the circus, and although they mock him because of his strange name, he is keen to get to know them better. When they leave, he finds a library book that one of them dropped and decides to take it back to the library. What can go wrong? A lot.
As soon as Fizz sets foot in the library, his life is turned upside down. Perhaps Miss Toad, the comically hideous librarian, is a sign that things among the bookshelves are not as they should be.
We don't want to give too much away, but do boys that innocently walk into a libraries usually get kidnapped by crazy pensioners?
The plot may be rather thin, but the book's cast of bizarre characters and odd-ball situations compensate.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com