Mice play an important role in Christmas stories, going back to Beatrix Potter’s Tailor of Gloucester, through the Church Mice at Christmas and the clockwork wanderings of Russell Hoban’s Mouse and his Child.
To make it clear that this is a book about Christmas (and mice), The Happiest Man in the World comes with the subtitle ‘the Mouse who Made Christmas’. This particular mouse, the inhabitant of a derelict British terraced house, is the sort of selfish rodent who won’t even share her food with beetles. ‘Get lost,’ said Mouse. ‘Why should I give you anything?’ Humbug.
When a new inhabitant moves in, laden down with a suitcase and carrying the woes of the world on his hunched shoulders, the mouse is hopeful that it will mean food on tap. But the old man is deeply depressed and spends his dismal and grey days staring out of cobwebbed windows.
The mouse is once more forced to leave the house on the scavenge for food, but as the weather turns from autumn to winter the shops where she does her robbing are filled with cinnamon stars, giant plum puddings and festive chilli.
Spying a delicious clementine, the mouse is suddenly filled with an uncharacteristic desire to help the old man.
If you can ignore the massive spoiler on the front cover, this is a beautifully told story culminating building up to an unsurprising but still pleasing reveal.
It is the artwork that really makes the book stand out though, with artist Louise Nisbet’s oversized paintings looking as good to eat as the chocolate logs and mince pies in her cake shop.
The Happiest Man in the World is published by Hodder