The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket, John Boyne


“This is the story of Barnaby Brocket, and to understand Barnaby, first you have to understand his parents; two people who were so afraid of anyone who was different that they did a terrible thing that would have the most appalling consequences for everyone they loved.”


And so begins the story of The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket. 

Barnaby’s parents pride themselves on being ‘normal’. They are so normal, in fact, that they abhor anything that is slightly out of the ordinary. They live in Kirribilli, have normal jobs and do only normal things. Their lives unfold in a perfectly normal way. That is, until Barnaby is born.

“And now there was a terrific sensation of relief and the sound of a baby crying. Eleanor (that’s Barnaby’s mother) collapsed back on the bed and groaned, glad that this horrible torture was over at last.

‘Or dear me,’ said Dr Snow a moment later, and Eleanor lifted her head off the pillow in surprise.

‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.

‘It’s the most extraordinary thing,’ he said as Eleanor sat up, despite the pain she was in to get a better look at hte baby who was provoking such an abnormal response.

‘But where is he? she asked, for he wasn’t being cradled in Dr Snow’s hands, nor was he lying at the end of the bed. And that was when she noticed that both doctor and nurse were not looking at her any more, but were staring with open mouths up towards the ceiling, where a new-born baby – her new-born baby – was pressed flat against the white rectangular tiles, looking down at the three of them with a cheeky smile on his face.

‘He’s up there,’ said Dr Snow in amazement, and it was true: he was. For Barnaby Brocket, the third child of the most normal family who had ever lived in the southern hemisphere, was already proving himself to be anything but normal by refusing to obey the most fundamental rule of all.

The law of gravity.”

I could cite entire pages from this book, whole chapters in fact, so beautifully crafted in this prose and so brilliant is this tale. Boyne has brilliantly constructed a book which celebrates difference while at the same time appealing to readers of all ages – I read this book first and then read it to my three children (ages 8,8 and 10) and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. It is filled with the most delightful cast of characters, each one more intriguing than the next and it takes readers on a thrilling journey across the earth and into space, literally.

I can’t begin to recommend this book enough. It is one of my favourite books of the decade and it has left me with so much to ponder and so many valuable lessons.


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