Kasper in the Glitter by Philip Ridley

One of my all time favs and a book I read and then reread multiple times as a ten yer old, I’m pretty sure Philip Ridley’s stories were massive chunk of my childhood reading and this is one my favourites. May I present, Kasper in the Glitter.

Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 9780140368918
Published: 9/7/1995

Kasper Whiskey lives with his mother Pumpkin in their house/salon in the middle of a wasteground. It was supposed to be new housing, but after all the other houses were pulled down, the builders just never came back. Still, Pumpkin and Kasper are happy together until one day, Kasper meets Heartthrob. Heartthrob is a strange boy with a jet black quiff and a hankering  for a suntan and some of the beautiful roses Kapser tends to so carefully in the the salon’s garden. Eager to make a friend after having never set foot outside the salon’s garden gate, Kasper readily agrees, but when Pumpkin’s beloved golden rose brooch goes missing, Kasper has no choice but to leave his home, cross the wasteground and hunt for Heartthrob and the missing brooch in The City. But will he end up becoming one of The Lost instead, under the terrible rule of the cruel Streetwise, King of The Gloom?

Welcome to one of quirkiest writers I’ve ever read! I love the way he plays with language, I love the way the characters talk, and I especially love how off the wall each character is! Pumpkin, with her insistence that she sparkle against the dullness of it all in her blonde beehive and yellow leather mini skirt and frilly blouse; Kasper in his yellow suit and shoes and shoestring tie; even Heartthrob, with his Pride and Joy quiff and vanity – these characters and othersvof Ridley’s making gave me such ideas when I was younger. It didn’t help of course, that the pictures in these books are all done by my favourite illustator, Chris Riddell.  The image of one of the Lost, standing splayed by a lampost has stuck with me for 15 years, that’s how powerful the pictures in this book can be.

The images are not the only things that have made this book stand out for me though. The characters themselves have stood the test of my memory too, especially Pumpkin and the truly malicious King Streetwise.

So, Pumpkin first! She’s a diva, for starters. Kasper is responsible for all the cleaning and cooking in the house, all the careful tending of the garden and he will basically do anything for his beloved Pumpkin. The story opens with Kasper bustling about her as she returns from a shopping trip, chastising Kasper all the while because she’s walked all this way and look! her fingernail got chipped, get the polish honey! and gasp! her lashes aren’t sparkling, the mascara honey! and really honey, is it too much to have something to drink, or to eat, honey, and…… she’s such a drama queen and yet, she does so dearly love Kasper. After all, the reason she took so long with the shopping and got so unsparkling and asked Kasper for all those things? She ended up trasiping round dozens of shops looking for something Kasper really wanted. She’s this weird mix of beauty-obsessed featherhead and utterly devoted mother and that’s what makes her so much fun to read. She both dotes and relies on Kasper and that’s one of the marks of some of the greatest kids stories isn’t it? When the adults don’t act like adults and the children are the ones who’re really in charge?

The second character though, is far more sinister. He gives me chills up my spine, even now, does King Streetwise. He always reminds me of Elvis gone wrong; a great, swaggering, honeytongued (‘well – hey there!- moonlit dude!’), malicious brute. A golden viper, all done up in jewels and rings and golden clothes but with a mean streak through him that can’t be polished. His court are the Argonauts, boys who wear symbolic tin-can headresses and do his every bidding under pain of black eyes, which he dispenses whenever he declares the slightest thing ‘yuk’. He’s the kid who rules the Gloom, the darkest parts of the City, and in that Gloom, this self-proclaimed king claims control of the Lost or the homeless children living out of cardboard boxes. And his is not a benevolent rule.

Now, imagine if you are one these children. Wooly hat, oversized, ill-fitting clothes and your only shelter is your precious cardboard box. You huddle together in groups, silent in your cardboard boxes, and try not to be noticed. And then in comes this great golden monster who, to prove a point, commands his Argonaut slaves to tear apart your only home, your only comfort – your cardboard box. No wonder that drawing of the Lost boy by the lamppost had stuck with me, Streetwise made it do so. And that’s not even mentioning his truly awful crime….

He’s this weird mix of the sly bully who pretends to be your friend, but ends up using you to bolster himself up, and a little kid. He thinks only of making people say they’re his friend and declaring everything in terms of ‘yuk’ or ‘yum’. He’s a truly sinister individual and that’s why I remember this book. With such an awesome bad guy, it makes for an epic showdown when Streetwise does the unthinkable and Kasper is faced with no choice but to face him down.

There are other characters too to fill out this quirky and deceptively simple read, like Poodlecut, Fingerpoppin’, Jingo and Hushabye, but to be honest, if Pumpkin and Streetwise haven’t intrigued you then I’ve obviously not getting the point across right. This is one of those few books that has withstood my memory and stayed absolutely clear in my head for 15 years. The number of books that I can say have done that is in single digits and although this book is now not really available new, I do urge you to find it seocndhand. Pick it up, get acquainted with Kasper and Pumpkin, and you’ll see why this books will resonate with you as much as it has done me. Enjoy.

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