Last week I went to see the new Japanese animation, Arrietty, based on an old favourite, Mary Norton's The Borrowers. I work from home these days, but I happened to be in the office for a moment so I took home my battered copy and re-read it. This is the cover of my edition:
As usual when you re-read a book that you think you remember well, there are many details I had forgotten, and many details are different from the film. The standard interpretation is Arrietty's coming of age, and watching the movie with a 15-year-old I couldn't help wondering how much of that she recognised. As a parent with an empty nest, I recognise the parents' separation anxiety.
I also remembered the metafictional aspect, the story within a story, and the eternal question: did it really happen. Even when I read it first, long before I knew the word metafiction, I enjoyed this playfulness and mystery. The Russian midget story was nothing as sophisticated.
As I remembered, this book was about the impossible love, because the boy can never shrink to Arrietty's size and she cannot grow to his. There is a short story by Astrid Lindgren in which there is a magical word which allows the protagonist to shrink. It makes it all much easier. And although I have read the sequels, Arrietty's and the boy's farewell is irreversible. (Books like this shouldn't have sequels, but that's another matter).
What has always fascinated me about the borrowers was all the intricate ways they used the borrowed objects. And suddenly it filled with new significance. I am a borrower! That's exactly what I do when I make my dollhouses. In the book, there are both minute descriptions and illustrations. I must now put it on the shelf together with all my other dollhouse-maker books.