The Castle of Inside Out by David Henry Wilson, illustrated by Chris Riddell (Alma Books Ltd) PB RRP $14.99
Reviewed by Daniela Andrews
A girl follows a talking rabbit to a magical place where language play abounds and with word games aplenty. The magical land is ruled by pigs that have thrown the humans outside the castle and are now mistreating them in retaliation for their own former treatment of animals. Confused about which book I’m reviewing? It is neither Alice in Wonderland nor Animal Farm, but this fast-paced, gripping fantasy novel has been aptly described as a meeting of the two.
The politely inquisitive protagonist, Lorina, is on a mission to find a mysterious castle for her school project. A black rabbit offers directions, but he warns her to stay away from the ‘outsiders’, the horrible green people. He reassures her that those in the castle, ‘the insiders’, are lovely, educated and civilised. Lorina bravely sets off to find the truth for herself, wondering if her rabbit guide is, in fact, misguided. She also wants to know why there are toxic fumes spilling out from the castle.
Originally published in 1997, this novel makes a welcome return to today’s bookshelves. The illustrations by the talented Chris Riddell, Children’s Laureate, are black-and-white, deeply detailed drawings rich in texture. They manage to convey absurdity and sense at the same time, thus suiting the novel perfectly.
Readers are introduced to a vast array of cleverly named animals, such as the ‘bureaurat’, the ‘super-viper’, a ‘farmadillo’, a ‘custoadian’ and the egotistical leader – the ‘piggident’. The writer shapes the characters’ dialogue around their animal sound. The cat, for example, says ‘niaobody’ and ‘niaothing’ and the gobbling turkey (‘turnkey’) says ‘problobloblem’ and ‘followollowollow’. There is a stand-out alliterative passage showcasing the menu of the cuckoo (‘cookoo’) that made me want to put the book down and burst into applause. This novel begs to be read aloud – perhaps a reflection of the author’s prior success as a playwright.
The story casts a satirical spotlight on government and asks the reader to question the effect of power upon compassion. Though the novel is quite whimsical in nature, older readers won’t miss its darker undertones. The emotive distance with which these issues are raised does make the story accessible to younger readers. I’d recommend the novel for readers aged 8–12.