Sunday, May 17, 2015

Thomasina, by Paul Gallico

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

This children’s classic tackles the conflict between the rational and the human, with the central character, a proud and rather cheeky cat names Thomasina narrating part of her story. A heartwarming gem not to be missed.

Here is a cat novel that examines some pretty existential questions. Thomasina is a pet cat belonging to a seven-year-old girl named Mary. Her father, Andrew MacDhui, is a coldly rational veterinarian. His small practice is inundated with cases of local pets that need his attention. This hard worked vet often gets impatient with his customers and suggests some rather heartless treatments for the animals that are presented to him. One gentle old lady who’s dog is on death’s door he brusquely advises to have put down, even though it may have lived another month with some care and provided the woman a bit of extra comfort. MacDhui’s harshly realistic character is offset by his friend, Angus Peddie, a local preacher. The two often have spirited discussions about God; MacDhui is an atheist.

One day Mary finds that her beloved cat can’t walk at all. She just flops around. Mary rushes Thomasina to her father’s surgery, where he is working on a dog that has been run over by a car. He quickly diagnoses Thomasina as having tetanus. If treated, Thomasina has a fair to middling chance of recovering her health. However, busy and short tempered, MacDhui orders the cat to be euthanised. Mary is distraught and doesn’t forgive her father.

A group of local children, friends of Mary’s, give Thomasina an honourable burial in the glen beyond the town. A local “witch” of the area, Mad Lori, a beautiful young woman who cares for animals, takes in Thomasina and cares for her. Meanwhile, Thomasina goes to cat heaven and gets in touch with her inner Egyptian Goddess.

Finally Mary takes a turn for the worse as her grief plunges her into a near fatal illness. But then a happy series of events ties the plot up and all live happily ever after.

This is an emotionally satisfying story about the struggle between the rational and the human. MacDhui is clearly too coldly mechanical in his thinking. He can’t see how he is hurting the feelings of so many around him, and if he knows it, his arrogance makes him think he is right anyway. It is the witch, Mad Lori, who must show MacDhui life’s higher purpose. Inbetween Thomasina narrates her own alternate chapters, giving the novel a cheeky and humourous twist. A mini gem.

Thomasina, by Paul Gallico. Published by HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780007395187  RRP: $12.99

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