Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Gravedigger's Cottage

This month's Hedgehog book is The Gravedigger's Cottage. It's about death. That's pretty obvious. But I kept getting the feeling that there was more going on in this book than just dealing with death. Mr. Thompson said that stories could be plot-driven or character-driven. This one is definitely character-driven.

Sylvia and Walter McLuckie have recently moved, with their twice-widowed dad, to a new home in the gravedigger's cottage. I'm not certain why it's called that, maybe I missed that part. But apparently everyone who moves in to that house is known in the town as 'the diggers'. But the name fits, because this family has a tendency to have their pets (and mothers) die on them. Every other chapter is the story of how a pet (or mother) has died. It's a little morbid. Ok, it's a lot morbid. Not that I mind. In the alternate chapters, not a whole lot happens. The kids meet some local kids who gawk at them. The dad becomes obsessed with renovating the 'leaking' house. Ok, sure. Like I said, character-driven.

Sylvia
She's the narrator, and she sounds like she's talking into a microphone, telling her story. It's very conversational, which is cool. I like that style. She feels responsible for the deaths of most of her pets, and probably her mom too. She also feels like the responsible adult, partially because she's the only female and therefore the only sane person in the household. I don't blame her, because her dad doesn't seem to be much with responsible parenting.

Walter
Sylvia's little brother. Not much to say about him, except that he killed his hamster a la Lennie, with a loving squeeze. He doesn't seem so afflicted with guilt as Sylvia, and I think he's mostly there to bring up the unpleasantness that she tends to avoid.

Dad
He's where Sylvia learned avoidance. His favorite thing to say is, "We won't dwell on that now." Other than that, we get a very superficial understanding of him, and therefore no understanding at all. When he starts obsessing over the house, and the phantom rat that keeps wrecking things (and stealing the garden hose?), all we get is some wacko walking around with spackle.

So maybe this is the story of Sylvia and her two tendencies: Dad is her ability to avoid dealing with a situation (death), and Walter is her sense of reality. Eventually, reality wins out when Dad kills the phantom rat (symbolizing guilt? avoidance? denial?), and Dad becomes sane again. Another pet dies, and Sylvia seems ok with it.

I think that's all I really have to say about that. I liked the book. It was good, funny, easy to read, but sometimes depressing, because of all the death. But how else could it be?

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