The World of David Walliams Novel 2 – ‘Mr Stink’
“Mr Stink stank. He also stunk. And if it is correct English to say he stinked, then he stinked as well. He was the stinkiest stinky stinker who ever lived.”
Thus is the opening paragraph of David Walliams second children’s novel, ‘Mr Stink’.
You may have read my previous book review of Walliams first novel, ‘The Boy in the Dress’, where he talks about his love for Roald Dahl, writing children’s novels and exploring topical issues in today’s society. I liked the book very much, and in particular what I raved about was Walliams’ ability to highlight a controversial social issue in a child-friendly, easily accessible medium. As I mentioned, I have the box set – as soon as I finished the first, I was excited to get the next novel underway. I was intrigued to see if his second novel would have the same progressive overtones.
I wasn’t disappointed. You will be forgiven for thinking that this novel is merely a vacuous, shallow laugh at some unfortunate man’s poor hygiene. However, this is a novel of secrets…a story of mystery and intrigue, and grotty, crude jokes that is sure to hook you.
Well, if you’re 10 years old it’s sure to hook you. If you’re older, not so much. I wasn’t quite hooked, but I was still happy to waste a couple of hours polishing it off one holiday afternoon.
Yes, the holidays – I actually read ‘Mr Stink’ during the September holidays. Why the long delay before review, you may ask? Because this time around I wanted to give you some qualitative data, other than my own (very valid) opinion. I wanted to go to the streets. I took my book into my classroom.
The book was read to my class of 4th Graders, with resounding success. Every morning as soon as I led them into the room, I was welcomed with a chorus of “Can we read Mr Stink!?”. Every silent reading session was met with “Can you read to us instead of us choosing our own books to read?” and soon, their end-of-term-tiredness (and my end-of-my-term-tether) led to us reading the entire novel in about a week. They couldn’t get enough. As one very eloquent 10-year-old put it, “Mr Stink is totally epic!”…need I say more?
We’d just finished reading ‘The Witches’ by Roald Dahl, and when I had read the first few chapters of ‘Mr Stink’ one boy even piped up “This guy and Roald Dahl must have been friends as well as sharing illustrators, they sound really similar!” so there’s further confirmation that Walliams’ style mirrors that of his literary idol.
As I mentioned in my previous David Walliams review, one thing I love about reading to children is the voices I can put on for each character. The posh english accents, the innocent little girls, and the pompous old men featured in this novel were perfect for me to show off my vocal talents. The diversity of characters in this book wasn’t as wide as Walliam’s first novel, but the newspaper owner, Raj, featured in both – some surprising continuity that I found very endearing.
The novel tells the story of a rather distinguished vagabond (Mr Stink) who is befriended by a rather lonely, unpopular girl called Chloe. Chloe does not feel she fits in – at school, at home or anywhere really – and finds a friend and companion in the old tramp. She desperately wants to know the story behind his life (his distaste for bathing and love for month-old orange juice aside) – and more than that, wants to follow in his footsteps and escape her own situation.
As with Walliam’s last novel, there are a few subtle themes underlying the story. Bullying, homelessness, and parental disconnect are just a few of the more serious issues that are so elegantly and simply addressed in the book, another of Walliams’ excellent attempts at educating youth on these some-what taboo topics.
I relished in the opportunity to discuss these ideas with my students. Have they ever passed a homeless person on the street? What do they see/think/feel? What do they think can be done to address the issue? How do they think it would feel to run away and what might be the issues with this? Raising awareness in the next generation, one of my absolute favourite things to do. And this only further enthralled them.
Something that I did not realise when I read the book by myself, was the advanced vocabulary. I frequently found myself stopping to explain a phrase, or a cultural reference that most of my students would never have heard before. I think a child who has a love for reading, reads often, and has a wide vocabulary may have gotten by with their comprehension and word-decoding skills, however most of the kids would simply have skipped ahead to the burping and fart jokes. This knocked the book down a peg or two in my esteem, and I’d be interested to give the books to some students to read without my input, and then discuss it afterwards.
One thing I do love about my class, is how touchingly innocent their outlook of the world is. They simply could not fathom what could entice a man to leave all he had behind and become homeless (without giving too much of the mystery away!). They despised Chloe’s atrociously behaved mother, empathised with her regular run-ins with her spoilt sister, and really connected with the idea that you mustn’t judge a book by it’s cover. This, combined with many (many!) laughs, and plenty of sniggers made the book another favourite.
It’s a far cry from the darkly humorous and grim Man-Booker Prize shortlisted novel I’m currently reading at home. Keep an eye out for the review of the more seductive ‘Eileen’ by Otessa Moshfegh. And then it’ll be on to the next one!