Man en Muis
Mice are only people, too
Gruesome, engaging, funny, valiant and sad, Man and Mouse, is written by the greatest fairystoryteller in the Netherlands, Paul Biegel. It is an allegory set in the low-level world of mice: indoor and outdoor mice, field and house mice, the ‘Browns’ and the ‘Greys’, as well as a specimen of a newer species, the computer mouse.
Man and Mouse is set in the house and garden of a human, the elderly ‘Uncle Theodore’, who has no idea of the teeming life surrounding him. But mice are like people, it soon turns out, with dreamers and doers, adventurers and inventors, blockheads and smart Alecs. The biggest scoundrel, a rat, lives in the cellar, where he deals in ‘Befuddle’, a mixture of ‘Poisonous Gilly-Weed’, ‘Blue Bile’ and ‘Wild Night-Cap’. Whoever sniffs it falls into a state of ‘strange daftness’, in which dreams are sweet and beautiful and life seems light and airy. Then the mouse no longer cares for cheese or maize. After Befuddle there is nothing but more Befuddle, even if death follows.
Biegel writes about the seductiveness of drugs, without getting moralistic, or losing his sense of humour. The message is clear, but does nothing to spoil the whimsicality of the story. Besides, Man and Mouse is about much more. Paul Biegel interweaves numerous story lines, as he writes about first love, about mischief and misunderstanding, about progress and about the polymorphic dreams of Mousedom.
The characters are innumerable, the language effusive and, just at the right moments, sparing again. Biegel has a way with words. He alternates his home-baked vocabulary with simple, almost obvious sentences, making the book, like his other works, accessible and challenging, inviting and stimulating. His maxim is: ‘The nature of the child is not to be small, but to become big.’
By Judith Eiselin