The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson, 258 pp, RL 4
The Abominables is a posthumous publication from Eva Ibbotson with illustrations by the wonderful Fiona Robinson. Ibbotson is best known for the magical creature filled books she herself called "romps." While her works always have a rich vein of loving kindness running throughout, Ibbotson had a gift for creating kooky characters with bad ideas and and bad intentions as well as those with bad ideas and good intentions. She could rival Roald Dahl when it came to writing baddies and she was a decade or so ahead of J.K. Rowling when it came to writing about wizards, witches, ghosts and all kinds of magical happenings.
As author Mal Peet notes in his review of The Abominables, Ibbotson most likely started writing this story before her husband of 50 years, Alan Ibbotson, entomologist and environmentalist, passed away. Perhaps as an act of mourning or tribute, Ibboston set aside her comedic and satirical stories and wrote Journey to the River Sea, a book in which Peet says her, “passions and pains were undisguised by jokes.” Journey to the River Sea, Ibbotson's best selling book, along with Island of the Aunts are my two favorites, with The Abominables a very close second. The Abominables is pure Ibboston in plot and tone. Surprisingly, this manuscript, which was discovered after her death, was completed by her son, Toby, and her longtime publisher, Marion Lloyd. If you aren't familiar with Ibbotson's many works, The Abominables is the perfect place to start!
The Abominables begins, “About a hundred years ago something dreadful happened in the mountains near Tibet.” As the young and beautiful Lady Agatha, who was on expedition with her father, a famous plant hunter, slept, she was taken from her tent by a "ghastly, gigantic, hairy THING." Only a blue bedsock remained. This bedsock, which happened to have Lady Farlingham's name sewn inside, was returned to England where Lord Farlingham slept with it under his pillow until he died. When she awakens, Lady Agatha finds herself presented with a jumble of orphaned yetis, being looked over by their anxious father. Young though she is, Lady Agatha steps right into the role of maternal figure and governess, teaching the yetis, who have feet that face backward, young and old, everything from manners to math. Best of all, they loved the stories she told them. These yetis were "truly kind and considerate by nature, not only to each other but to every living thing." They would rescue little spiders, avoid stepping on molehills. When Agatha taught them they should "Always Apologize for Any Inconvenience You Have Caused," the yetis began saying sorry to everything they ate, saying sorry to mangoes, flowers and yak-milk pancakes. However, things change forever for the yetis when Lucy, prone to sleepwalking, leaves tracks in the snow on a glacier near the Hotel Himalaya, calling attention to their existence.
Lady Agatha, now almost 110 years old, realizes that she has to prepare for the future of her furry family. She is helped along by Con and Ellen, the children of the chef at the Hotel Himalaya, and Perry, a kind hearted truck driver with dreams of starting his own pig farm. The children agree to chaperone the yetis Agatha's ancestral home, Farley Towers, and get them settled in. Of course nothing goes quite as planned, however, the children and the yetis, through their innocence and inherent kindness, right many wrongs along the way as they barely escape one dangerous situation after another. Sadly, the most dangerous, treacherous, situation awaits them when they arrive at Farley Towers.
I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of this fantastic book, but hopefully I've told you enough about The Abominables and Ibbotson, who was an Austrian Jew and the children of two remarkable parents - her father was a pioneer of artificial insemination and her mother was a colleague of Brecht and Pabst - to make you want to run out and gather up all her books and settle into a cozy spot to read, laugh, and sometimes shed a tear or two. I'll end here with a final note about the yetis, who all have individually curious qualities (and names) and their pet, Hubert. Hubert is a yak and, while yaks are not "very clever at the best of times," Hubert is especially challenged. He is continually confused about who and where his mother is and bonds with Ambrose, the wall-eyed yeti. That is, when he is not digging a "Hubert Hole," a place that allows him to hide his head when he is feeling muddled. As Ibbotson writes, Hubert was probably the "only potholing yak in the world." However, Hubert finds a few new friends along the way as he travels with the yetis...
Eva Ibbotson's books available in the US:
Eva Ibbotson's books for Young Adults:
Source: Purchased at Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle