Faraway Train

Hilary Mantel

  • Flickerbook by Leila Berg
    Granta, 256 pp, £15.99, January 1997, ISBN 1 86207 004 0

The title of this writer’s autobiography is taken from Easy-to-Make Old-Fashioned Toys. ‘Flip-books, or Flickerbooks ... a series of sequential pictures or photographs put on separate pieces of paper, one after the other. When the book was flipped quickly through, the pictures would provide the illustration of a moving picture.’ Thatword ‘illustration’ ought, surely, to be ‘illusion’. One wonders how often a successful Flickerbook was achieved, even by the patient child. The theory’s fine, but in practice there would be great gaps in the sequence. It may be that all those games and tricks demanding superhuman patience, all those artefacts with tabs and slots and letters of the alphabet, requiring glue and paste and three right hands, all those infant pastimes which allegedly were easy enough for a previous generation, were in fact designed specifically by grown-ups to bring home to the young the shoddy, sloppy nature of adult life. They bore a message for you, those cardboard models that folded at a breath, those home-made ingenuities that wouldn’t stand up, or which disintegrated even as you applauded them. No matter how carefully you follow instructions, no good result is guaranteed: what you have on your hands may turn out to be wastepaper and blighted hope.

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