Waking up in a panic thinking you’re late and then remembering it's your day off.
Accidentally overhearing someone saying something nice about.
What's it a list of? Pleasant surprises you don't expect. I couldn’t be happier than when I added this book to the list: Varjak Paw by SF Said.
And yes, it’s another cat book, much like Warrior Cats. And like Warrior Cats, I picked up Varjak Paw whilst on my mission to research cats in fiction novels. And while I’d heard of the positive reviews surrounding Varjak Paw, I still picked it up due to feeling more of a sense of obligation than actively wanting to read it. After all, it’s a small book, with big and spaced out writing, interspersed even further by illustrations. So all I expected was decent read, aimed at the 8-12 range, and nothing more.
Well, what I got was something special. Now I can see why everyone who comes within reading distance of Varjak Paw raves about it.
So what’s it about? Well, the titular Varjak is a kitten who lives in an isolated house on a hill. He’s never left the houses walls, until a strange Gentlemen enters the house. Sensing that something is wrong, Varjak’s grandfather ushers him out of the house, with only a slither of information on a secret martial art for cats called “The Way”, and a mission to gather help before the house of cats become another victim to the mysterious “Vanishings”.
So far, so standard. Or so you’d think. But my goodness, SF Said has a way with words. The shortness and simplicity of the story belies a depth to it, as if each and every word was painstakingly selected for just the right effect. There is not a drop of fat in this author’s prose. It doesn’t read like it was kept simple for the sake of the target audience, but rather to achieve this timeless, ageless quality. There’s an almost Zen-like feel to it, which is appropriate: Varjak Paw really is Warrior Cats meets Karate Kid.
As if the elegance of the prose weren’t enough, the story itself resonates to readers from all walks of life. The main theme is of someone trying to find their right place in the world. Does that ring true for children? Of course. And adults too? You betcha.
And that's where Varjak Paw dumbfounds me. At first glance it looks like a simple novel with all the standard nuts and bolts. And even when you take into account the taut prose and wide-reaching themes contained in something deceptively small as a cat looking for help, you still don’t get the full picture of makes Varjak Paw work so well. Tight writing and universal themes aren’t new, after all. But it's only when you sit down with the book that you realize that Varjak Paw has something - something! - that strikes a deep chord with it's reader, the way it sets up a powerful string of empathy between you the reader and Varjak and then proceeds to yank it every direction so you almost physically feel the same highs and lows as this kitten. Is that what sets it a cut above the rest? Or could it be the nervy, stylish illustrations by Dave McKean? Or the easily-recognisable vulnerability and self-doubt Varjak has? Possibly these, and more.
Look, what I'm saying is that this book has something very special beating at its heart that will make you think about it long after it's over. I don’t think it’s physically possible to read this book without feeling compelled to read the sequel, to be honest. The gap between finishing this book and picking up the second was painful, like I was suffering severe withdrawal symptoms from a book I’d only just picked up hours before. Sounds nasty, but when a book can make you feel that way it’s a very good thing. I don’t care who you are, where you’re from or how old you are. Go and get this book. It’s for everyone…especially you.