Graphic Novel | Books

Friendship and strength: Review of Charlie Mackesy’s ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’

Early in March, before the world as we knew it changed, my friends and I had a ritual of sorts. Every evening, we’d gather together and stroll to the nearby chai spot, skirting puddles and people, as the conversation flitted from one topic to another. Someone would be stressed, another worried, yet another scared. As we gathered around steaming cups of chai, grievances were poured out and wisdom shared — earnest, clichéd and a tad saccharine , but also heartwarming and kind. It was this feeling that I revisited as I thumbed through Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse.

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The book, in Mackesy’s words, is a “small graphic novel of images and conversations over a landscape.” Think the nostalgia of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh married to the earnestness of Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear, complete with gorgeous calligraphic illustrations. Much like Pooh, it follows the journey of the titular characters, set off by a chance meeting of the young boy and the mole. The two strike up an unlikely friendship as they wander through the wilderness, swapping pieces of insight and encouragement. Midway through their journey, the duo meet a fox caught in a snare. Despite the danger, the mole takes a leap of faith to rescue the fox, before embracing a horse as yet another member of their motley crew.

Bites of wisdom

The story is deceptively simple and fragmented, filled with nuggets of philosophy and conversations designed to make you feel warm and happy. While the clean layout and short blocks of text scream “children’s book,” some of the themes may be out of reach for the little ones. For instance, on finding two stately swans gliding peacefully across a lake, the boy asks, “How do they look so together and perfect?”

“There is a lot of frantic paddling going on beneath,” replies the horse.

Succinct quotes aside, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse is primarily a work of art. Mackesy’s experience as a cartoonist (for Britain’s The Spectator) and book illustrator shines through the pages. The book features over 100 drawings, colour and black-and-white. Sketched with his signature thick-nibbed dip pen and ink, the curvy lines and cursive writing lend an air of intimacy, much like a letter from a long-lost friend. “The greatest illusion is that life should be perfect,” reads one illustration, smudged by tiny paw prints. Point taken, Mackesy’s dog.

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse is a book that invites the reader’s engagement. Like the story, the physical copy too has a lot of spaces for you to interact with, jot notes, scribble, and maybe add a sketch of your own. At 128 pages, it is a quick read, though to treat it as a check mark on a reading list is bound to be disappointing. This tale of friendship and strength lives in a corner of your heart, waiting for you to summon when the going gets tough.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse; Charlie Mackesy, Ebury Press, ₹699

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2020 9:18:35 AM |

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