YAXLEY'S CAT by Robert Westall


Age Range: 11 & up
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 Rose, poking along the bleak coast of Norfolk with her children Timothy and Jane, happens on an isolated cottage. Though it's primitive and filthy, the children talk Rose into letting it for a week. The three throw themselves into cleaning, with Rose welcoming the respite from her husband's heavy-handed authority. Mr. Gotobed, who comes to tidy the garden, turns fearful at the sight of an old handmade book. Menace multiplies: a surly tomcat, snares, a locked closet with preserved animal specimens, glowering villagers. It develops that owner Sepp Yaxley, who disappeared seven years ago, was a ``Cunning Man,'' murdered by the villagers when his magic seemed to fail. Thinking that Rose is taking his place, they threaten to kill her too, but Timothy's rifle and Yaxley's vengeful cat intervene. Rescued, Rose is left nearly as alienated by the coolly efficient Timothy--``demonic, tireless... damning souls to hell''--as by the frightened, vicious villagers. Though the book is cast as a conventional horror story, Westall deals with the larger issues of power, mercy, and the loss of compassion. Vacillating and insecure, Rose--whose point of view prevails--seems like a prime ninny, yielding decision to her children or her absent husband; still, she is the one left with an anguished query--``Is there no mercy anywhere?''-- that's answered, ``Yes...in you yourself,'' by the kind vicar. And though there are loose connections here, the story suggests provocative questions, especially for those who note the stunning contrast between the cold intensity with which Timothy wounds his antagonists and Chas's ultimate understanding (in Westall's The Machine Gunners, 1976, Carnegie Medal) of the essential tragedy of shooting an enemy. A minor but entertaining effort by a major author. (Fiction. 11+)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-590-45175-8
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1992


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