Book Reviews

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse – A Review

Author: Charlie Mackesy

Reviewer: Nikki Goldup

Published by Ebury Press, 2019

This week was marked with International Kindness Day, a day to carry out acts of kindness, take a small ‘pause for kindness’ and value its importance. 

With this poignantly in my mind, I took a few hours out of my usual work schedule for some ‘self-kindness’ – a coffee, some music and a peaceful read of the newly published, debut tome by artist Charlie Mackesy. I am confident most Haynet readers will be familiar with Charlie’s work. Encouraged by his friends to publish his illustrations on Instagram, his following has grown to legendary proportions, which continues to be a surprise to this modest and exceptionally talented artist. 

Charlie’s book focuses on four main characters, the boy, the fox, the mole and my personal favourite, the horse. 

In his prologue Charlie introduces the characters and how he sees them, inviting the reader to make their own interpretations as they view the book through their own lens. 

The boy, a lonely soul, in the wild, meets the mole who quietly becomes his wandering companion. Next to join them, the fox. The mole has to learn to trust the fox, a quiet character, wary of life as he has been betrayed many times. Finally comes the horse, the largest animal, but the gentlest.

Each character brings their own histories, philosophies and temperaments to the scenes that unfold. As Charlie comments, he can see himself in each animal and asks if the reader can too.

If you were expecting a story, to read from beginning to end, you would be mistaken, this is a book of moments placed on each page, beautifully illustrated with thought provoking captions in Charlie’s beautiful inky, handwritten script. However, the moments come together as one, with the four companions travelling and making sense of their and one another’s worlds as they look outwards to the nature around them. 

Charlie’s illustrations are sublime, his mark-making and intuitive use of pen and ink, interspersed with spurges of colour show a real understanding of animal form and create an almost theatrical vignette on the page. The majestic beauty of nature unfurling across the pages but rendered with such humble materials. Smudges, coffee cup marks and ink drips all joining together to provide authentic, considered and knowledgable interpretations of the characters. 

The book itself is presented beautifully, with a superior binding, endpapers and sketchbook quality paper. The whole production is considered and feels value for money. It is a publication to be treasured and reminds me of some of the books I was given as a child, and still cherish today. In this disposable, online world to own something you can hold, thumb through and re-visit is a delight. 

This is a book for reflection, to read when times are good, when you need strength and when it’s hard to make sense of our hectic lives. Is a book to remind the reader that gratitude can sometimes be the answer, as can friendship, love and kindness. Lessons for us all, and produced in a humble and selfless way. 

The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse, the four friends sharing their lives through the work of one very talented artist and writer, although as Charlie explains in his prologue ‘It’s surprising that I’ve made a book because I’m not very good at reading them. The truth is I need pictures, they are like islands, places to get to in a sea of words.’ As a fellow artist I concur, and thank Charlie for the gift he has been able to share with us, writer or artist, this is one publication that I will continue to read and enjoy. 

To purchase a copy, please visit Amazon