The Beast and the Bethany
Jack Meggitt-Phillips, illustrated by Isabelle Follath
What a feast of a book is this deliciously droll take on The Picture of Dorian Gray for a younger audience.
The key characters are a diverse lot: there’s soon to be 512-year-old, and still dapper-looking, Ebenezer Tweezer; underneath that patina of youth and respectability lies a fearful, ruthless human. He resides (and has done for more than five centuries), in a huge house full of luxuries, courtesy of an attic-dwelling beast with a voracious and horrifying appetite. These two have a special deal going: the old man feeds the beast whatever it asks for and said beast spews out whatever Ebenezer wants.
Now, as the ancient man prepares to celebrate his birthday, he notices he’s starting to look his age and requests his annual anti-aging potion from the beast – to be withheld until Ebenezer procures the beast’s next meal – a human child. “You can’t go around eating children, there’s something so very impolite about it,” comes the response. But which is more important to the man – his own life or that of a child? You can guess what Ebenezer decides.
This story has several comic episodes, the first being operation child acquisition. Things don’t come easily when it comes to getting hold of a child however, and after several dead (almost) ends, there’s mention of the local orphanage run by Miss Fizzlewick wherein resides Bethany. Far from likeable, this young miss is the ideal candidate, sullen, uncivil, and extremely naughty, but scrawny with it. And therein lies the rub; for once procured by Ebenezer, the child (who has already decided to torment her adoptive parent) needs to add more flesh before the beast will dine upon her. That means trouble for Mr E.T. – three days of it.
Nonetheless he grows unintentionally fond of the child:
could it be that the two might find themselves on the same side endeavouring to get the better of a thoroughly inhuman would-be child consuming creature?
With lashings of deliciously dark humour and a handful of unforgettable characters, this book with its suitably tasty illustrations by Isabelle Follath,
will hold you in its bone-crunching jaws right through to the last page.
Bring on the second uncaging of the Beast and The Bethany.