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Sowmya Rajendran

By Payal Kapadia . Illustrator by Roger Dahl
Puffin Books, Delhi, India, 2014, pp. 311, Rs. 299.00


If you started reading this book without taking a look at its cover-page, you may think it’s been written by Roald Dahl. Mean and stupid parents, adults who are dumb as soup, grown-ups who are outrageously wicked, a granny who is wise and can stop them all (remember The Witches?)—they are all here. But after a point, you are likely suspect that this isn’t really Roald Dahl—the evil stops being entertaining half-way through and just begins to sound repetitive.  Horrid High is about a school for children whose parents want to dump them there and forget about them. Ferg Gottin is one such child. His parents don’t care about him and don’t have any time for him (just like the ones in Matilda). His mother apparently didn’t ‘cook or clean because work made her perspire, and perspiring made her blow-dried hair curl up at the ends in the ugliest way.’ No similar judgment about the father’s lack of interest in housework though—he’s chided for neglecting the boy because of his busy career but not for anything else. This may sound like nitpicking but Ferg’s mother’s character reads exactly like one of those portrayals of ‘modern’ women in a moralistic movie made in the 80s.  Ferg’s parents are delighted when they find out that he can be sent to Horrid High, a school that masquerades as Happy High to escape diligent school inspectors. At Horrid High, the teachers are each horrider than the last and the most horrid of the lot is Principal Perverse. But is that just it? Obviously not. Ferg uncovers a conspiracy and it’s up to him and his equally miserable friends to save children all over the world from a most terrible fate. Payal Kapadia’s language is engaging and imaginative and the story moves along at a brisk pace. The plot, though, is not too convincing and the explanations provided to keep it from developing holes are sometimes pretty hard to buy.  One is also not sure where all of this is happening—somewhere in Europe, you surmise, going by the school chef who is German and the descriptions of characters who have blue eyes or red/blonde hair. I belong to a generation of Indian children that grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton and could never imagine having ...

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