I always like the opportunity to read and review the novels written by people know, and The Prime Minister’s Cat is an example of this. Knowing as many writers as I do, perhaps I should make a special section for books by people I know.
Having said that, my feelings on this book are mixed. The story follows the story of a kitten named Barry who ends up homeless and then goes on a journey which ultimately leads him to become the prime minister’s cat, meeting several colourful characters along the way.
This is a book for children. When I first started, I was reminded of the writing style of Roald Dahl and at only 51 pages, it won’t be difficult for children to finish. The sentences are written simply and structured in a way which is appropriate for the target audience. Additionally, the story of cats and kittens will be appealing to children who will be able to relate the anthropomorphised characters to the animals they have in their own lives. I must also admit that I was rooting for things to go well for Barry, as he’s a nice and inoffensive cat who never really does anything wrong.
So why are my feelings mixed? Well, as much as it is a children’s story about a cat, it was still set within the real world. Nobody knows that the animals secretly talk to each other in their own language and that’s how it fits into reality, which is fine… but I struggled with is how several details didn’t seem true to life. A woman is sent into a care home and the process through which this happens is largely over-simplified and done very speedily. At one point, Barry hides in a restaurant’s dumb waiter and eats a little bit of the food from each plate as it goes up. I really struggled to imagine how a cat could hide undetected in a dumb waiter, especially while eating some of the food (which I’d think would leave obvious signs). A lot of the side characters were just stereotypes too – for example, the French waiter who is very uptight and speaks in a very heavily French accent (which is written in the text when he speaks). I don’t think it’s a good idea to include stereotypes in children’s fiction. These are just a couple of examples, but there were other issues.
A final niggle, was that there were a fair few errors in spelling and formatting. For young children learning to read, I think it’s especially important that these things be ironed out. Meanwhile, things like the font randomly changing sizes between paragraphs just grated on me a little. These may not bother other people quite so much as they do me, but as someone who has done a lot of work as an editor and proofreader, they really leapt out and were quite distracting.
Overall, it’s a book that you can read in just a couple of days. There are a few fun little references to history throughout it and some genuinely funny moments (The President of the United States’ reaction to seeing a rat, for example, made me laugh out loud), but I can’t deny that there are problems with it.