By the time I got to Joseph I was crying. It’s the kind of effect Hilary McKay can have on you, and I really had not seen what came coming. And I’m sort of glad. I’d only come across one review of Binny for Short, and to be on the safe side I’d only squinted at it sideways. Briefly. You don’t want your Hilary McKay books to be ruined, however well-meaningly it’s done.
You want to enjoy them whole-heartedly, by yourself, and if the phone doesn’t ring when you have ten pages to go, so much the better.
I’m coming to the conclusion that Hilary can’t write bad books. Binny is no Casson. She’s a Cornwallis, and this is another wonderful McKay family. Hilary has no need to kill off parents to be rid of them. Simply by being so very nice – yes, nice – and so different, they make their stories totally unique.
Binny’s father dies (sorry about that, but he was old), and her new dog has to go and she is heartbroken. With her lovely mother, and her equally lovely older sister Clem, and sweet younger brother James, she starts moving around. A lot. They have to.
Because she was the one who got rid of Binny’s beloved dog, Binny hates her Aunty Violet with a passion (I’d like to be Binny’s mother, but suspect I’d be Aunty Violet), and anything connected with her is bad.
I didn’t mean that Hilary doesn’t kill off characters. She does, and quite quickly, too. But the Cornwallis family need somewhere to live for the duration of this book, and they couldn’t have ended up in a better place. Mrs C finds a job, Clem works hard at everything and James is in heaven. Binny makes an enemy, which she finds most satisfying.
And in the midst of the charming day-to-day happenings, Binny has a bigger adventure, which carries through the book from the start, before you know why or what. As I said, I didn’t see it coming, but just let myself be lulled into this comfortable place, knowing that somehow everything would make sense.
They are just so nice! And so is the book. And I know the author ‘shouldn’t matter’ but I would guess, so is Hilary McKay. You can’t write this kind of thing and not be. Her writing is sheer genius in its simplicity.