If you wanted to get political about The Little Town of Marrowville, it would be easy to read an anti-establishment message into this children’s book. From the creator of The Dark Room, the show that spawned an international cult of Darrens, now comes this children’s book, which is no less bizarre and magnificent than John Robertson’s other work.
It tells the story of Aubrey and his nameless sister, as they attempted to navigate a brutal and unforgiving world following the gory death of their abusive father. Police officers exist purely to uphold a system of violent oppression inflicted by the most powerful on the most vulnerable, while those figures of authority that should help are nowhere to be found. Also there are legitimate monsters.
Equally, this children’s story could be read simply as a ridiculous romp through an ultra-violent fantasy world inhabited by monsters, only some of which bear a passing resemblance to reality.
It might be safe to argue that it falls somewhere in the middle. It’s your call how analytical you want to get about it. But, either way, you should definitely read it. Even if you are not a child.
The Little Town of Marrowville is intensely dark in a way that only children’s books can really get away with. It vividly depicts fight scenes between enormous adults and helpless children, grown men getting ground up into mince and subsequently eaten, and a particularly disgusting description of graphic pimple-popping.
Somehow, the book manages to maintain an upbeat and humorous tone, despite the protagonists suffering constant tragedies and abuse. It is just whimsical enough that the violence takes on an air of slapstick, without being so silly that you lose your ability to emotionally invest in the children at the centre of the story. It can get ridiculous, but consistently so. It makes its own kind of sense.
For all its grimness, The Little Town of Marrowville is a surprisingly wholesome tale. It is one of strength and resilience, of identity and acceptance, with characters sharing moments of love and kindness that are genuinely moving. It is a book that makes it quite clear that family does not always mean the people who share your blood, but those who care for you no matter what and will stand with you when things get difficult.
The Little Town of Marrowville is gory and violent, but it has so much heart. You can’t help but connect to Aubrey and his sister and it will be a shocking tragedy if there isn’t a sequel on the horizon.