Saturday, 15 September 2012

A tiger came to tea

From 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea' by Judith Kerr

This was our house last night. My husband went to a conference so was away for two evenings and a day, not long, not as long as last time, but long enough for everything to go awry. Instead of daddy suggesting sausages, chips and ice cream at a cafe, mummy took everyone to tea at Wagamama. And then she came home and put the kids to bed and drank wine and didn't tidy the house at all. 

Much as we love this book in our house, there are elements I find somewhat disturbing. The reference to 'Daddy's beer', mainly. I love the page when daddy comes home from work - he cuts rather a Don Draper-esque figure, don't you think? - but the page where Sophie and her mummy explain what happened is just bizarre. The perspective is completely off, a tiny mother hysterically waving her arms at a double-sized daddy in the foreground. 

There are many different readings of this book on the internet: it's about escaping from Nazi Germany (as Judith Kerr's family did); the mother is an alcoholic; the tiger represents the danger of female desire. But by far my favourite, and the one I rely on a lot, is the feminist reading: Sophie's mummy couldn't be bothered to tidy/shop/cook and so she made up a story about a tiger. That's the tiger who comes to our house too.

Where are the books with mummy coming home from work? Mummy's beer and supper waiting for her? I found an interesting programme about this very issue, discussing the nostalgia for old fashioned books being read to children who cannot make sense of them in a modern world. It's here if you'd like to listen. Don't miss Anne Fine's closing line, which I will be making use of next time I read The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

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