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If it moves, kill it!
on 1 December 2006
Swiss Family Robinson is one of those books that everybody has heard of, but how many have read it? Well I finally got around to reading it and finished it on the train to work this morning. All in all it was a pleasant enough read, but to be honest it didn't blow me away. In fact, for much of the time I was reading it I felt like it was a bit of a chore.
For a start it's far too long. I have nothing against long books, but there's no need for it here. So much of the story's content is the same old situations re-told but with different 'beasts' or 'wonderful discoveries'. By trimming away some of the 'same old same old' this book would be vastly improved.
The father's almost encyclopaedic knowledge does begin to annoy too; no matter what bizarre animal/mineral/vegetable the children or him discover, the father knows what it is and is also aware of the strange methods needed to treat or prepare it for good use. Where on Earth did he find the time to learn all these bizarre properties and techniques?! The repetition of discoveries and father teaching children how they should be prepared and used just seems to me like an opportunity for JD Wyss to cram in as much of his own knowledge/research as possible - Wyss obviously read Robinson Crusoe and decided to copy the basis of the tale in order that he could show off what he knows on the subject of castaways and the flora & fauna of far-off places - and it is to the detriment of the basic story.
Animal lovers beware: there's a good reason for the title of my review - yes, I appreciate the situation they were in, and the era in which the book is set. But the killing of virtually every living creature they ever come across does seem a bit excessive (is there really a need to drown puppies?) - and ties in with my earlier gripes: firstly, that so much of the story is repeated, albeit with them finding a different beast (and then killing it, with the aid of their "brave dogs"); and secondly, that father knows just what these strange beasts are, and how best their carcasses should be prepared, stored, and which parts of their body are useful for any number of ridiculous purposes!
The basic story is entertaining, and I would have given the book a higher score - but in order for it to get 4 or 5 stars the book should be about 2/3 of its actual length.