Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Abominables

It pains me to say that I did not enjoy this.  So much so that I didn't even finish it.  I can only review what I've read, but even that makes me rather sad.

Whenever I find out that a book has been published posthumously, I feel rather sad.  Unless the manuscript was completely prepped and ready to go with a bow on top, what you are reading is not the purest vision of the author.  It's probably been filled in here and there by somebody else.

Huh, I just started thinking about that Nickelodeon show Ghostwriter, which I was not allowed to watch as a kid.  Did I miss much?


Anyway, when I was younger, I picked up The Secret of Platform 13 at a book sale, and Ibbotson charmed me with the wizard who grows turf on his head and the not so-hag-like hag and their merry misfit friends.  She had a sly sense of humor but also a sort of sweetness about her writing that made it very palatable.


The Abominables features a family of very friendly and polite yetis.  However, the didacticism preachiness, and othering of the yetis really turned me off.  It's clear that Ibbotson was Not A Fan of rich people prancing all over the world and ruining natural sites with the need to have resorts and tours and so forth.  She condemns the wearing of fur and the taking of animal trophies (again, I agree with both sentiments).  However, it's all done in a very obvious way.  There's no subtlety here.  I wonder if, given editing time, Ibbotson would have smoothed over this rough anger and written more of a story than a screed.

The peaceful yeti live in a sort of yeti Shangri-La.  They are vegetarians, not human-eaters, but Father Yeti, out of the blue, decides to steal the young Lady Agatha as she wanders away from her father's campsite in the Himalayas.  This is never explained, and the kidnapping of a young girl just so she could be a surrogate mother to baby yetis is more of a tee-hee-hee thing than a problematic situation.

Anyway, young Aggie simply can't resist the cute baby yetis, so she decides to stay in their valley and teach them to be proper and civilized.  The yetis learn English, and also "their sums and their alphabet and how to sing hymns."  Agatha also explains that one must always apologize and the yetis go a bit far, apologizing to the grass they walk on and the fruit that they eat.  This becomes rather irritating, as you can imagine.  Thankfully, Agatha comes up with a solution: teach them how to say grace and thank God for their meal!

At this point in the book--so very early on--all I could think was "White Man's Burden" which is not a theme I want to find in a book published in 2013.

Time passes and Agatha grows to be very old, while the yetis are still quite frisky and young (they live an exceedingly long time).  On the other side of their valley, the Evil Materialistic Humans build an ostentatiously ornate resort.  By chance, one of the yeti's footprints is discovered, and the Wicked Opportunistic Greedy Humans decide to capitalize on that and have yeti tours!

The head chef of the restaurant brought along both of his children, Con and Ellen, and Con helps out with the tours.  One day, he decides to warn the yetis about the humans, discovers their valleys, and comes up with a slightly wild plan to transport them to England in a refrigerated semi-truck.  Or lorry.  As you will.  Because ... Lady Agatha is going to die and she's absolutely sure the yetis will be safe back at her home estate.

What kind of herbs was she on while in that valley?  The country where people hunt foxes is not a good place to bring yetis.

Con manages to find a sympathetic lorry driver whose only dream has been to own a pig farm and gives him gold to truck the yetis across Asia and Europe.  This is pretty much where I gave up, but I guess they get to England and find that Lady Agatha's house is, naturally, inhabited by a bunch of hunters.

Nothing about this was engaging or excessively clever.  Whatever charm the yetis had was completely obscured by the SAVE THE EARTH message.  This was closely backed up with the message that HUMANS ARE AWFUL (which, while being generally true, does not allow for the good things that people do.  We have to focus on that if we are to have hope--not pin our wishes on mythical vegan yetis).

What really got me, though, was the whole "civilization of the yetis" concept.  Obviously, the yetis had been doing just fine on their own.  They had survived.  They lived in a sort of paradise.  How is that improved by singing hymns?  They sing hymns a lot, by the way.  What right has Agatha to impose herself upon the yetis?  Clearly, they need her Very White Anglo-Saxon Ways of Doing Things.  Except they don't.  I don't know how many kids reading this will pick up on this theme, but that's the most insidious kind of teaching: the one that people absorb without even realizing it.

People keep going on about how just utterly charming this was and tra-la-la-la-la, but I found the writing to be flat and rather draggy.  I wasn't particularly interested in the story, and the thematic elements gave me all the reason I wanted to close the book and move on.

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