For adults who haven’t read her work, the “children” label on the library copies of Kate De Goldi’s latest novel may be offputting. It shouldn’t: her work transcends age, jumping out of the boxes we might try to put it in.
The title of the new book, From the cutting room of Barney Kettle, pays sly homage to a children’s classic by E.L. Konigsburg, From the mixed-up files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. In the latter, an enterprising brother and sister leave home to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
De Goldi’s story also stars two siblings with initiative, though here the boy is bossy – Barney is a film director – and his sister the support staff. (In Konigsburg’s story, Claudia is the instigator and Jamie the necessary number two.) They live not in a museum but in a flat above their father’s junk shop.
Barney has director’s block about the next project he’ll focus on, when the answer comes: “’It’s going to be a documentary... It’s going to be about the Street and everyone in it.”’ The neighbourhood is “bulging with stories”, so he and Ren set out to find them.
They know who to interview – or so they think. But the sudden and serial arrival of a zine, addressed only to “YOU”, disturbs and excites them. How might it alter their plans?
De Goldi excels in both humour and poignancy. Her child characters in this book and its immediate predecessors (The 10 pm question, The ACB with Honora Lee) are engaging and precocious.
The anonymous artists of the zine are equally intelligent and interesting but turn out to be older, edgy outsiders. Their presence just off stage contrasts and jolts the somewhat comfortable lives of B. and R. Kettle. It’s as if E.L. Konigsburg’s earlier New York children have become cynical, streetwise adolescents in the Antipodes.
Children may be the main focus here but don’t be misled: this is a sophisticated and complex novel that will reward the adult reader.
Title: From the cutting room of Barney Kettle
Author: Kate De Goldi
Recommended by Claire G, Grey Lynn Library
Claire G reads widely, writes narrowly, pampers her poultry and neglects her garden. She thinks Leonard Cohen was right about there being a crack in everything.