From the British author of Conrad's War, a lesser fantasy about bad Marmalade Atkins and the diabolical donkey Rufus. (She says Rufus is her donkey, but Rufus maintains and proves that he's his own.) Marmalade has been thrown out of two schools and the social worker sent by the school board asks to retrain as a computer operator after ten minutes at her house. To date, at least to the family's knowledge, Rufus has done nothing worse than knock people down and stand on them, but after he and Marmalade gang up on a visitor, an unsufferable little girl in posh riding clothes, he surprises Marmalade by speaking to her. ""I like your style,"" says Rufus, ""I reckon you and I could have a bit of fun together."" Confessing that sometimes ""I gets dressed up and I goes out and I cut loose a bit,"" Rufus takes Marmalade out in the middle of the night to a club where he performs as Good-Time Rufus. (it's really a pretty tame show.) Another time he takes her to a midnight pajama race where she rides the family horse Gypsy to a big-money victory engineered by Rufus. Finally Marmalade is taken back to the Sacred Heart school, where she is chosen to play the innkeeper and Rufus the donkey in a nativity pageant at the Coventry Shopping Mall. But Marmalade resents her small part, Rufus obliges with one of his famous charges (a ""hee-haw zigzag""), and the two leave the mall in chaos, rip through a posh hotel dining room where her father is hosting a lunch for rich Arabs, and set off on Route 66 (no less) for the Big Time. Roald Dahl-ish in its pomposity-pricking caricatures and relish for plain ornery rebellion, this is funny in spots but so unstructured and pointless that it goes slack.