Oh my cod! What a joy! Richard Pickard's debut children's book 'The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy' is an absolute delight, full of fishy puns, warmth and seaside eccentricity. Winner of the Times/ Chickenhouse Chairman's Choice Award 2019, it's Edward Scissorhands in tentacled crab form - hard edged funny, with a wonderfully soft underbelly.
Marina loves telling tales to escape the mundane life of her seaside town, where everyone is a fishmonger or expects to become one. But one day, the best story finds Marina as she discovers a strange boy with tentacles for hair and crab claws for hands on the abandoned pier. Determined to uncover the mystery of his existence, Marina learns more about her own family and the dastardly deeds of the shellfishly fish-obsessed Harold Mole. How can Marina help her town accept such a strange tentacle boy?
I enjoyed this immensely. Richard Pickard utterly transported me to Marina's seaside town. I could taste the salt in the air and smell the pungent pong of fish. It feels like an unusual, though familiar, kind of setting - almost a character in itself - in which to tell the story, and Pickard brings it all to life with wit, charm and quirkiness. Marina is a wonderful character, who has endless depths of kindness in a town with sharp teeth. But it's William, the tentacle boy, who is the pearl of the story. Like Edward Scissorhands, he is innocent, strange and needs protection from the adoration and celebrity he amasses. I loved the way the town reacts, quite early on; that William isn't kept a secret as by doing so it brings much more drama and humour to the plot. The antagonist, Harold Mole, is one of the most slippery, stinky, vile villains I have read this year - perhaps just as memorable as William himself in his strangeness!
Pickard is brilliant at embellishing the story with eccentric details and backstories, like spreading the finest tartare sauce on some succulent fish. There's a whole passage about a singing, wall-mounted fish which is just so funny. How the tangled, tentacles of the story unravel for an explosive ending is just so well done. And after all the villainy and darkness, the ending will leave a sunny smile on your face, as if you've been weathered contentedly by the seaside air. Wonderful! I highly recommend.