Chaplin and Company – Mave Fellowes
This is not about what I thought it was about. I picked up the book from NetGalley because I am a HUGE fan of Charlie Chaplin movies (I have a box set and everything) and I assumed that it would be about a fan of Charlie Chaplin movies. It is in fact about a boat. I’m going to hit you with the blurb while you digest that.
Introducing… Odeline Milk, a strange young lady from the suburbs.
A young lady with an obsession – you can guess what it is by the way she dresses: white collarless shirt, a waistcoat and billowing black trousers, the bowler hat. She’s on her way to London, to make her name as a great mime artist. She hopes. And typical Odeline, she’s arriving prepared. With the small inheritance left her by her mother, she’s bought herself a home, an old canal boat. What she doesn’t know yet is that for some the city’s canals have an appeal of their own. They are below the eyeline, a sort of halfworld, a good place to hide for a community of curious outsiders, all with their own stories to tell, stories which might help a certain young lady to think differently about life. Because there’s a lot Odeline doesn’t know
I know what you’re thinking, it doesn’t sound like it’s about a boat and, I suppose, in a way it isn’t, it’s about Odeline and her learning about how life actually works, but the Chaplin and Company of the title is the boat that she goes to live on and the story jumps between Odeline and her quest to become an entertainer whilst living on the water ways of London, the people she meets and the origins of the boat itself, from it’s inception until Odeline becomes it’s resident. The boat is as much a character as any of the humans which was a lovely touch.
Despite my initial sense of confusion when I realised this wasn’t about Charlie Chaplin, I wasn’t disappointed and I found it to be fairly enjoyable, so not a bad choice at all!
I do have a few niggles, the narrative was very basic in some areas, there were some wonderfully eloquent moments, especially when describing the Chaplin and Company and how it moves but overall it was very simplistic. I’m still trying to work out if that was because of Odeline’s somewhat simplistic nature or just the writer’s style. I think it’s because of Odeline’s character, you guys should let me know what you thought when you read it!
I also had a bit of a problem with Odeline… Is it possible to be that naive? I’ve never come across a character who is so completely narrow minded, so seemingly intelligent (she can do accounts and stuff) and yet so completely out of their depths with how to actually do life before. At first I assumed it was eccentricity, which is a trait I rather enjoy, but then I thought about it a bit, this girl decides to move to London (a place she has never been before), live on a boat which she doesn’t know anything about, how to drive or maintain, lives in a Chaplin style suit which doesn’t fit her, only eats processed cheese and doesn’t seem to understand the concept of well… Anything.
Like, no one would move into a narrow boat in London without knowing those things first surely? She isn’t written as someone who is sporadic or someone who is completely clueless so the fact that she behaves in this manner is slightly maddening. She is also a bit up herself, which is laughable considering how ridiculous she is. The fact that the lead character is like this is part of the charm of the story, watching her get into various situations and having to deal with them is funny and how she processes things can be endearing.
Aside from that though, it was enjoyable. I liked the off to London to make my fortune storyline and the way that Odeline really does grow up along the way. I liked how the city was displayed, both with an air of magic and its harsh reality and I found the story to be a refreshing change, it just wasn’t anything like I thought it was going to be and that’s ok because I picked up a book thinking it was going to be someone fan girling over Chaplin and I got a hidden gem instead!
This is one of those books that’s just fairly pleasant to sit and read in the sunshine, so on the rare occasion that it is sunny out, grab this and find yourself a field or something, because it’s kind of perfect for summer reading.
Stay tuned to this here blog to see a Q and A with the author, Mave Fellowes next week!