Warning: Contains Spoilers!
A familiar voice called to her from the depths of her despair as she closed her eyes and surrendered, lost in the freezing waste of Deptford.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Our heroine’s tall and dangerous destiny is all but upon her, and how she has grown over the course of the story! Whoever remembers the wistful, self-centred, obstinate creature of the Great Spring Celebration would not recognise the forthright and determined Audrey who graces this chapter. See how she berates the very mice she previously hid from behind a haze of anxiety and dismay. ‘Are we rats?’ she asks, ‘to leave the dead scattered around?’ Thankfuy, the House mice have the decency to listen to her, proving that they, at least, are not yet members of the untame breed.
A moment of quiet dignity, then holy-moly-me-oh-my here come the deathless wraiths of the Unbeest and there’s no time to hang about. Those grisly horrors made a strong impression upon us the first time around, but here, in the confined environs of the Skirtings, they are many times more alarming. I love how the mice do not even think of standing their ground or engaging in acts of foolish courage; even Thomas sees that it’s time to high-tail it (excuse me) out of there. Mighty and terrible indeed is Jupiter, and mighty his fell horde.
The scene with Thomas trying to get the mice through the Grill was not one that I recalled, and even amidst the danger and doom of the situation I could not help but crack a grim smile at the bossy Landings mousewife. Sadly, even in emergency situations, there may be someone who is selfish and uncooperative, to the detriment of others, and this miniature Harsh Lesson is illustrated brilliantly here. Even at the grand finale, these mice display very human faults and failings, and each becomes a rounded character in their own right as a result. Bravo, Mr Jarvis!
Finally, and perhaps most horrendously, we have Audrey’s confrontation with the wraiths. Yikes, yikes, and thrice yikes. I had completely forgotten that poor Mr Kempe is brought back to give an encore as a spectral fiend from the brumal abyss! What a nightmarish figure he cuts as a shade, his packs brimming not with fine lace and ribbons but with grinning skulls. I’m vaguely put-out that there is no illustration of Kempe in this harrowing state, but perhaps we’re better off without one – the imagery the text conjures up is enough!
Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter just makes me even more sad that there is no animated Deptford Mice Trilogy series. This chapter is all action. We just get past the funeral of the Starwife and then – BAM – there are freaking zombie rats POUNDING THEIR WAY THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR WITH DOOM-LADEN ICE SPEARS.
What’s not to like?
I should also add that I’ve been listening to a lot of music by Jóhann Jóhannsson lately, who writes perfect atmospheric wintry music in almost all his music. (He is Icelandic, after all!) In particular, I quite like this track from his soundtrack for the movie Prisoners, which – if you disassociate it from the movie for a moment – seems to fit perfectly with the icy misery that is currently Deptford. (That said, Prisoners is a brilliant film that also deals with emotional trauma, missing children and revenge vs justice as well, so maybe it’s not too far from the world of the mice in some ways.)
How terrifying is this chapter, though? The rats have perfect horror movie jump-scare timing in this chapter, if you can imagine how it plays out.
First of all, they are – somewhat improbably – at the front door of the house. Can you imagine someone walking past and not noticing this? (Or – possibly a question for Mr Jarvis – was Deptford in the early 90s the kind of place that could have a team of rats gnawing down a door and no one would notice?)
But then, when Audrey comes out of the cellar – the rats are not there. We don’t know where they are. But when she comes back in from the garden, lo and behold, they are now down in the cellar. Were they hiding in the Skirtings, where they watched her go past, then went down into the cellar to wait for her to come back?
It doesn’t really matter – the overall effect is that no matter where Audrey goes, some terrifying zombie creature is going to jump out of nowhere. This is going to terrify my son when he gets old enough to hear this…