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Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda

by Margaret Atwood, Dusan Petricic, illus.

What Margaret Atwood did with the letter R in last year’s Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, she has done again with the letters B and D in this new nonsense picture book about Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda. Whether it strikes you as a belaboured exercise in alliteration or a glorious romp with the language seems very much a matter of your own taste and sense of humour, whatever your age. I was aghast and amazed to hear a colleague who had read a couple of Atwood’s adult novels comment that he hadn’t found any humour in them – but who can predict what someone else will find funny?

Canada’s best-known novelist, the Booker Prize-winning Atwood is sophisticated in her use of language, exploiting an abundance of B and D words with panache. Bashful Bob also has fun with conventional plots about babies abandoned in baskets, feral children raised by animals (here, a boxer, a beagle, and a borzoi), orphans set to drudgery by rich, wicked relations, and outrageously pat endings where all the lost are found and the wicked repent (or at least go elsewhere). The fortuitous resolution is brought about because a buffalo is annoyed at having been mislabelled a begonia.

As a writer of tomfoolery, Atwood lacks the élan of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll and doesn’t entrance us with the giddy magic of great nonsense. Nonetheless, the fun she has in trying out all the B and D words may set some readers to exploring the dictionary and playing around with what they find.

Dusan Petricic’s pictures echo the text in being both sophisticated and slapdash, with a purple-hued Dorinda and a brown Bob in a jaunty landscape of peculiar perspectives and compacted time references.