Monday, 20 October 2014

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico Review

A hunchback artist called Rhayader moves to a lighthouse to paint the coast and the birds. He lives a lonely existence because of his appearance. The nearby village begins circulating rumours that the hunchback is magical and an ignorant girl called Frith takes a damaged snow goose to him to heal which he does with basic medicine (splints, bandages, etc.). The two bond over the snow goose which returns each year to visit until eventually it settles down to live with Rhayader all year round. Then World War 2 begins and their small idyllic existence is forever lost.

I’m really puzzled as to who the audience for The Snow Goose is.

It looks like a kid’s book – at 40ish pages, it’s a short story, and it’s fully illustrated – so it might be aimed at kids 10 or under. But then a large part of the story centres around the Dunkirk evacuation from WW2 and unrequited love – military history and complex adult emotions aren’t really things I’d say pre-pubescent junior school kids would have any knowledge of.

Unless it’s not aimed at kids and it’s supposed to be for teenagers and older? Except it looks like too much of a kid’s book to appeal to any teens. I know when I was in high school, I only had eyes for books by Terry Pratchett, Stephen King and Douglas Adams, steering well clear of anything for kids.

And adults? Would a 40ish page illustrated short story appeal to them, and would they be engaged with the thin story, one-dimensional characters and excessive sentimentality? Besides highlighting that there was an evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940, it doesn’t provide any insight to the event.

It’s baffling, though I’m an adult (technically anyway!) and I picked this up as I was told it’s a classic. Except it’s not. Neither Rhayader or Frith could be considered well-written, rounded, memorable characters in the least, and the story is extremely boring for the most part. It becomes mildly interesting – though incredibly far-fetched – once Rhayader and the snow goose take off in a skiff to the coast of Dunkirk to help ferry stranded British soldiers from the beach to the larger ships anchored nearby. But that little piece of fantasy doesn’t really make this a classic.

There’s far too much mawkish sentimentality over unspoken love, and tragic and needless death, and so on, but it felt manipulative of the author rather than genuine. I wasn’t saddened by the ending, I just wondered what the point of it was. It’s much too brief a story to make you feel anything about any of the “characters”.

I suppose kids might enjoy the book – it’s not a challenging read, though I’m not sure what a kid is going to get out of it. Older readers are likely to be unsatisfied with the brevity of the shallow tale. The Snow Goose, aka Hunchbacks Need Love Too, is a forgettable and trite short story that easily impressed romance fans or readers looking for sentiment for the sake of sentiment will enjoy.

The Snow Goose

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