While randomly surfing Facebook groups after first joining, I found and immediately joined “The Borribles would kick Harry Potter’s bourgeois arse“, a view which I heartily subscribe to and have hinted at here before too.
From that group I discovered the author’s official site and this article by Peter Lyle for TANK magazine which captures much of what I really love about these books, as well as my usual experiences in trying to tell people about them.
“They’re called the Borribles.”
“It’s this children’s book from the ’70s.”
“They’re these oiky kids with pointy ears who live in all the shitty bits of London and fight the grown-ups and the Wombles and…”
“Do you mean the Borrowers?”
Except that for me, no one brings up the Borrowers either. (Which is fair enough really, they were pretty lame.)
Anyway, I just wanted to encourage anyone who’s done with the latest Harry Potter and feels a sense of loss or whatever to give the Borribles a try. They are some of the most memorable and gripping children’s books I have ever read, and I really don’t understand why no one seems to know about them.
Reading the books again as a grown-up living in London gave me new insights into what made them so great (Lyle likens the presence of London in the books to its presence in the writing of Dickens, and to the Dublin of Joyce’s Ulysses) and the rest of the article continues to open my eyes to things I hadn’t thought about before: that the areas in which London’s Borribles choose to make their home – Battersea, Tooting, Wandsworth, Stepney, Whitechapel, Neasden and Hoxton – are today an “index of then down-and-out, since gentrified, bits of the city,” and that “in an era when children’s books about chosen ones, picturesque and ethnically-cleansed boarding schools, timeless English architecture and the universal use of received pronunciation dominate the entire fiction market, The Borribles is a celebration of everything that doesn’t fit with that vision.”
You can read the first chapter of each Borrible book at the site, though if you’ve never read any of them then I recommend (in case of spoilers) that you only read from the first book.