CHILDREN'S BOOKS / Listen to what the Man says: 'The Man' - Raymond Briggs: Julia MacRae, 9.99 pounds

WHAT IS it with Raymond Briggs and strange men who arrive secretly in the night? His superstar, the Snowman, was an entirely benign visitor, protective, smiling like a seal: he became the acceptable face of slush.

Now Briggs has created, in The Man (Julia MacRae pounds 9.99) another clandestine friend for another solitary boy, and this one is an altogether thornier character. Rude, irritable and opinionated, he is an unattractive little brute about three inches high, podgy, covered in sparse ginger hair and, after a bit, pretty smelly too. He arrives one morning in John's bedroom, demanding clothes (a cut- up sock), Cooper's Oxford and PG Tips: John knows he's real when he pees into a paint water jar and the water turns yellow.

For the next three complicated days John is a half-willing, half-rebellious slave to the Man's demands. Dream-like his appearance may have been, but, as a guest, and as a secret to be kept from the parents, the Man is a nightmare. He dismisses everything in the house as 'health muck' and sends John out to spend all his pocket-money on chips, white sugar, After Eights, Coco Pops (brand-names are modishly in evidence) and all the other goodies forbidden by John's health-conscious mother.

He becomes a tiny force for chaos in this neat-as-pie household, leaving marmalade on the telephone (who was he calling?), using John's father's stylus brush as a toothbrush, shouting hymns at the top of his voice. His requirements don't stop at food, either: 'Got any bath foam? I like Avocado or Peach Blossom.' 'They've only got Woodland Pine.' 'Oh well . . .' This dialogue between Man and boy is amplified by speech-bubbles that cut across and into the main dialogue from the cartoon-style drawings. The conversation is chopped up by the illustrations, too, making it episodic, strangely repetitive and long-winded in its welter of product names. Are we in a moral tale about consumerism, we wonder?

But we don't wonder for long: this, it becomes clear, is a moral tale to do with just about everything. The mystery of who or what the Man is, let alone where he comes from - is he a Borrower, the literary boy asks, or an Endangered Species, a gnome, a fairy? - makes the book circle round and round questions of racism (size-ism?) and the acceptance of strange outsiders. Do they have a claim on our hospitality, our pity, our goodwill? And why should they be easy, or good, or grateful? During one of their many quarrels, the exasperated boy shouts: 'Oh all right. Don't be helped then. Go on] DIE OUT] As if I care.' while the Man yells back: 'I want to live my life] No one is putting me into a MUSEUM]'

And so it goes on, at times so politically correct that it threatens to collapse into a lecture: 'Aren't you lucky? Why? All these possessions] . . . I've got nothing] I know. I'm sorry . . . I've never done any harm in the world, have I? No, I shouldn't think so. Then why should I be made to suffer . . . Why is it other people get all the gravy? I'm sorry things aren't . . . more equal', and so on.

This is surely too windy and boring to retain the interest of the age-group that would appreciate this large-format book. For all the inventive vigour of the illustrations (and the Man does look impressively peculiar wearing a digital watch as a belt-cum-breastplate), Briggs may have mis- judged his audience this time. Whereas, in The Snowman, he pleased everyone by saying nothing with immense charm, The Man runs the risk of pleasing no one by saying far too much.

At the end, after a furious row in which the Man threatens John with a box of matches, there is an abrupt change of mood. Next morning the Man is gone, leaving a sudden tear-jerker of a note ('you wer mor kind to me than anny won els in the hole of my life') which, in its artful misspelling, contains a possible clue to the Man's identity, or at least to the nature of the encounter: 'you ar a God bloke.'

The final, wordless frame of solitary misery, so characteristic of Briggs, shows the boy sitting with the tiny garments he made for the Man spread out on a table before him. A striking picture of loss and mourning, but a confusing one - bootees, safety pin, little knickers: these are, unmistakably, the accoutrements of a dead baby. But at least Briggs doesn't explain.

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project