Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: That's Not My Donkey: its tummy is too squishy

It has been almost a decade since Fiona Watt’s seminal That’s Not My Dragon: Its Ears are Too Tufty, a stark portrayal of materialism and loss in the third millennium. While other literary giants such as Donna Tartt and Dan Brown have taken years to produce new work, Watt quickly followed TNMD with the surprising That’s Not My Robot, the upsetting That’s Not My Bunny and the contraversial That’s Not My Father Christmas.
Despite the author’s prolific output, many readers will have been waiting eagerly for the latest tome. That’s Not My Donkey: Its Tummy is Too Squashy has been hidden for months under a shroud of secrecy. Translators have been allowed only one page at a time. Publicists have been banned from gossiping in pubs. But now the wait is over. Can Watt take us yet further into a world where a mouse is repeatedly presented with wrong things before finally, mercifully, ending up with the right thing?
The answer, sadly, is no. No, no, no, no, no.
That’s Not My Donkey has problems, both structurally and metaphorically, and also logically, and parabolically. It is a slur on the whole series.
Firstly, and most obviously, we must question the sense of choosing a donkey as the central subject. The urgency with which a mouse might search for a lost dragon, a lost tiger, a lost father Christmas, or even a lost robot, hardly needs explaining. But a lost donkey? Really, Watt? How far would a donkey go? The next field, perhaps. Or the one after. Certainly not far enough upon which to hang an entire book. And despite the author’s unquestionable artistry, it’s hard to build dramatic tension around a slightly wayward beast of burden. "That's not my donkey," the mouse might well say. "It's fine. Mine's probably just over there."
Right from the off, Watt can’t find her way past the natural limitations of the equus africanus asinus. After all, one donkey is only ever a slightly different shade of grey from another donkey. Its tail will never vary greatly, as say for a dragon. Saddles may change in style and hue from one donkey to another but that’s about it. And yet this mouse, this chaotic rodent, this haphazard creature of the earth, must still be presented with five wrong asses before the final triumphant reunion. And so some hooves are too bumpy, some ears are too fuzzy and a blanket is too shiny. “That’s not my donkey,” writes Watt. “Its tail is too fluffy.” It is as bad as if she had chosen Model T Fords. As in, that's not my Model T Ford. It is exactly the same as my one though.
Some of the themes raised by Watt’s earlier work – why a mouse would keep losing things, whether possession is nine tenths of the law, whether society is actually better off in a state of material flux – become mere parody in Not My Donkey. 
In eight short years, we have gone from a dragon with ears too tufty, a powerful parable for all that is wrong and yet right and yet still wrong in the world today, to a donkey with an identifiably soft mane.

Usborne, £5.99

Next week, Each Peach Pear Plum
Lack of focus and no central plot, reminiscent of Virginia Woolf at her worst.