Review: I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman (Spoiler-Free)

All Bob and Joan really want is a child, but after years of trying, they’ve all but given up hope. That is, until a small boy in a tattered page-boy’s uniform knocks on their door one night with no clear memory of anything except this: That he used to be a rat.

I remember really loving this book when I was little, but it had been so long since I read it that I’d completely forgotten what it was called or who it was by… Needless to say, I was thrilled when I finally came across it again (in Pullman’s Four Tales anthology) – but at the same time, I was really nervous about re-reading it, in case my memory of how good it was had been skewed by nostalgia. Luckily for me, it turned out that it hadn’t; I Was a Rat! was just as amazing the second time around as I remember it being the first! 😀

It’s quite a short story, so there’s not that much room for extensive character development, but it’s great to see how Roger (the rat-boy) changes as he learns more about living amongst humans – for better and for worse. Bob and Joan are both wonderful parents/mentors to him, I really admired their persistence throughout the book; and all the other characters we’re introduced to over the course of Roger’s journey (however large or small their roles might be) are full of quirks, and a delight to read about.

This story is a sequel of sorts to a very well-known fairytale (which I won’t name here even though I wouldn’t really consider it a spoiler), and Pullman has twisted the familiar tale in some very interesting ways beyond just showing it from Roger’s (very interesting and very unusual) perspective. He’s definitely a master storyteller, and I Was a Rat! is a perfect demonstration of that… The edition I’ve been reading is also littered with fun illustrations by Peter Bailey, which really enhance the reading experience.4 stars

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