Mobile Library by David Whitehouse. Book review
Twelve-year-old Bobby Nusku is waiting for his mother to come home. In her absence he has collected an archive of all sorts of things. This is so he can meticulously relate everything that has happened to make sure his mother has not missed anything while she has been gone. During the course of the summer, Bobby meets Val and her daughter Rosa. Val works as a cleaner for a mobile library and so introduces Bobby to the magical world of books. He is enthralled. But when it is time to go back to school Bobby’s actions get him into serious trouble. So Bobby, Val, Rosa and their dog, Bert, all take to the road in the mobile library.
The book should come with a warning ‘Do not read in public if you get easily embarrassed’ because the beauty of the words and the powerful emotions they evoke are guaranteed to make you shed a tear or two. Take, for example, one of the descriptions of Bobby’s feelings for his mother ‘For Bobby, this house was her, these walls her ribcage and within it her heart. He would keep it beating until the day his own stopped dead.’ If this does not move you, then you have a heart of stone. But there is also a great deal of humour and warmth contained within the narrative.
This innocent’s view of the world told from a child’s perspective, with an omniscient narrator behind it all, makes for an interesting viewpoint in reading terms. Bobby may be prepared to do some terrible things to wreak vengeance on behalf of those he feels he should protect. He is also complicit in some wholly unwise ventures namely helping his friend Sunny to become a cyborg. But Bobby is a victim of child abuse by a father who neglects him, and David Whitehouse has captured a view of the world askew through the eyes of a child for whom holding it in a type to dream state means he is able to cope. When allowed to blossom, Bobby is a child of great warmth and loving that is brought out through the thoughtful and caring ministrations of Val and the family unit they begin to form on their trip. Bobby also exudes a fierce loyalty to his friend Sunny that is returned in equal amounts.
This is an example of a hugely engaging story in which it is seems that every word has been carefully considered to extract the most out of it, both in terms of meaning and sound. The result is a rich texture of language woven through a plot framework that holds your attention while providing a great sensory feast. For example, consider the description of the father’s girlfriend conducting her hairdressing business in the kitchen ‘Soundtracked by the scissors’ percussive clack, they discussed rumours and invented new ones.’’
Mobile Library has been described as a fairy tale and this is certainly true, given the stereotypical evil father that Val helps Bobby to escape from through the use of books and then physically, by driving off in the mobile library. That a huge mobile library should be able to go on a road trip around the country without being instantly picked up by all the surveillance now in place certainly requires a suspension of belief.
Because of the way the book is written, the mobile library will comfortably stretch from the young adult to adult market and is something that will continue to reward with more than one reading.