Ursula Dubosarsky The Blue Cat, Allen & Unwin, April 2017, 176pp., $19.99 (pbk) ISBN 9781760292294
It is 1942. Columba lives in Sydney, on the harbour. Many things in her life are changing because of the war, much of which she does not understand. Her best friend Hilda, however, appears to know everything and enjoys sharing her knowledge. The war seems to be influencing everything in Columba’s life, from changing the time on clocks to new arrivals in Sydney. Ellery comes from Europe with his father at about the same time the blue cat appears in the neighbourhood. Ellery is unable to speak English and carries a book, written in German, around with him everywhere. The blue cat follows Columba’s neighbour, Miss Hazel, home from the ferry one evening; its arrival is as mysterious as Ellery’s. Columba, like many of the children, are fascinated by Ellery, and she and Hilda befriend him, the three embarking on an adventure through the streets and attractions of 1940s harbour-side Sydney, in pursuit of the blue cat.
Ursula Dubosarsky is one of the finest writers. This superb narrative is told with the innocence of childhood, from the viewpoint of a child, while at the same time knowing the older reader, for whom it is intended, will pick up on the nuances, uncertainties and horrors of World War Two. The imagery is strong, firmly placing the reader in time and place. The characters are depicted finely with Dubosarsky’s typically lyrical prose. Her writing is truly wonderful in this book. However, it is not only the writing that is well worked and refined. Throughout the narrative are archival material from the period, poems, artwork and other information pertaining to various aspects of the story, some very different to each other.
Reviewed by Liz Derouet