When I unwrapped a copy of Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse at Christmas, I’ll confess I was uncertain. A slim, hardback volume full of ink drawings and resembling a children’s picture book, I wasn’t sure why my parents had bought it for their nearly twenty-year-old daughter. Less than half an hour later, however, I realised what an important gift it had been, and knew it was a book that I will keep for a long time.
Every page is something beautiful, a comment on life, love, self-worth and anything in between
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is structured as a series of illustrations – largely in ink but sometimes other media – telling the story of a boy who meets a mole, then a fox, then a horse, until the four of them are travelling through the world together. Each page offers a vignette of this narrative, a short exchange between the characters. This structure means the book can be read cover to cover in a single sitting (to read it carefully takes no more than twenty minutes), or dipped in and out of. Every page is something beautiful, a comment on life, love, self-worth and anything in between: “‘Sometimes I think you believe in me more than I do,’ said the boy. ‘You’ll catch up,’ said the horse.”
Each character offers something different; the boy is an everyman, someone with questions about the world, about himself and what others think of him. He seeks advice from the mole and the horse, and is comforted by their words. The mole is small but kind, and cake is his answer to every problem. The horse is bigger, and wiser, and carries them both on his back; he knows that the boy is loved, that the thunderstorm they encounter will pass, yet he has his own insecurities too. The fox is quieter, because he has been hurt by the world, but as the mole shows him compassion he is able to offer it in return. As Mackesy notes in his introduction of his quartet of characters, “They are all different, like us, and each has their own weaknesses. I can see myself in all four of them, perhaps you can too.”
it comes across as a sort of guide to living a better life
This book started with an illustration by Mackesy which attracted attention on social media, depicting the horse telling the boy that the bravest thing he had ever said was “help” – The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse expands on this original, presenting a series of questions, thoughts and conversations. It could read as a series of cliché platitudes, but it comes across as a sort of guide to living a better life, a book full of pearls of wisdom, told with compassion, warmth and humour. In what is a fairly short book, Mackesy covers self-worth, beauty, unconditional love, home – and, of course, the importance of tea and cake. He speaks to a sense of self that we all have in common, to a universal understanding of what it means to love, and to be loved.
a universal understanding of what it means to love, and to be loved
This is simply a beautiful book, one for which its format and appearance is as important as its content: a cream and blue hardback with gold embossed lettering on the front. It’s a friend in a time of need, a gentle voice of reason and unconditional support; Mackesy has created a charming, endlessly delightful world into which the reader can retreat. This is a real treasure of a book, one that everyone ought to read – if you have a friend in need, buy them a copy, and get yourself one too.
Photo: Imogen Usherwood