Do you remember the Kit Williams book “Masquerade”? Published in 1979 it was a picture book which sparked a national treasure hunt when it became known that the author had created and buried a gold bejewelled hare and the clues to its whereabouts were hidden in the book. It became a worldwide bestseller, caused a boom in the sale of metal detectors and led to sudden mounds appearing in the countryside as treasure hunters began digging up public and private property in the belief they had located the hare. The whole thing ended in confusion and a hint of scandal which was documented by ex-University Challenge host Bamber Gascoine (“The Quest For The Golden Hare”). Both Kit Williams and his most famous work is the undoubted inspiration for Polly Crosby’s debut novel.
Romilly and her father live in a large ramshackle country house with a moat which will bring comparisons to Dodie Smith’s outstanding “I Capture The Castle” (1949). I wasn’t too disappointed by this as I love that novel and Smith’s main character Cassandra is one of my favourites in fiction so I settled in for a comforting read. Romilly’s father, an illustrator and craftsman begins a series of best-selling picture books with a promise of treasure featuring Romilly and her kitten, Monty, both of whom become fictional celebrities which attracts groups of treasure seekers to their property. I felt at this point I knew what type of read this would be but this is a novel of distinctly shifting tones becoming increasingly bleak and at times horrific. Although I love unpredictability in my fiction it did feel as if the author was a little unclear as to what sort of book she was writing and I wonder if this would alienate readers. There were times when I really liked it and times when I didn’t. If you like the father/daughter relationship aspects and the treasure hunt you will find the turn into darker territory disturbing. If the more bleak supernatural elements appeal you might find the first half overly twee. There’s definite mixed feelings from me on this occasion.
The Illustrated Child is published in hardback on 29th October 2020 by HQ. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.