Saturday, October 18, 2014

Awful Auntie, by David Walliams

Staff Review by Chris Hubbard

The wacky and wonderful David Walliams strikes again and this time he’s taking us on a frantic, funny and naughty adventure set in 1930’s Britain.

Twelve year old Stella Saxby is the sole heir to Saxby Hall after her parents die in mysterious circumstances. Her truly awful Auntie Alberta has her sights set on permanently removing Stella and taking possession of the family estate.  Alberta is assisted by her longtime owl companion called Wagner and it is their villainous deeds that keep this hilarious tale rollicking along.

David Walliams' books appeal to children and adults alike simply because they are delightfully absurd and funny. Awful Auntie is no exception. It may be over 400 pages but it speeds along like a dive bombing owlet and is ably supported by Tony Ross’s delightful and clever illustrations.  Much like Quentin Blake’s style, Ross’s sketchy and manic drawings are the perfect match for Walliams’ off-the-wall writing.  Indeed, I got the impression that Walliams' endless descriptions of eccentric activities were done not only to keep us laughing but to test his illustrator's ability to keep up with him. Tony Ross succeeds on all counts.

The character of Awful Auntie dominates the book’s proceedings with a wonderful sense of classic comedic timing  She reminded me of one of the Two Fat Ladies with her relentless upperclass British tenacity. Auntie Alberta's backstory is particularly funny for she was addicted to playing tiddlywinks and ended up losing all her money on this game.  She trains her owl Wagner to drop stink bombs over village fetes, steal ladies knickers from the washing line and duet with her on favourite German arias.   Not since Dastardly and Muttley, from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, has there been such a hilarious and inept villainous duo. I loved the way in which Alberta’s dialogue is printed in capital letters that get bigger and bigger the more awful she gets. It reminded me of that email rule equating capitals with shouting.

Young readers will surely adore Awful Auntie and relish her wicked ways.  It's a Girl's Own pastiche that will appeal to both sexes.  Alberta's naughtiness is ultimately not rewarded but few will resist taking part in this hilarious panto-like romp.

Awful Auntie, by David Walliams.  Published by HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780007453610 RRP: $19.99

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