The Mousehouse Years is, simply said, a glorious book.
This maverick graphic memoir, told with a distinctive, original voice and seen through an unblinking, unrelenting eye, reweaves the past clearly without adulation or censure, judgement or despair, the sun always there at the author's back.
It is a story of a large but broken family whose children years later, gather around the cocooned figure of their mother as she lays swaddled in sheets on her deathbed. The drawings are uniquely unpretentious and intuitive, like the drawings of a child. This instinctive pictorial dimension is the eye of the story, giving testament to the past, a past inspired in turns by disappointments or rejoicings, in a world filled with its own share of the ominous and hilarious which filled the author at times with dread, at times with wonderment and incredulity, leaving their ghosts of memory as vivid imprints on her and now on us, haunting and unforgettable.
At the centre of the story Velvet sits before us, her back to us with a pony tail, gazing at her computer as though it were a mirror in which she sees her life reflected. The Mousehouse years are years of an apocalyptic and strangely, despite all, uplifting childhood inspired and nurtured by the spirit of an unconventional mother who now she eulogizes. Velvet spares no secrets, so she shares the seedier side of family life but, as in her youth, refuses to give these sway over her story; as the incidents slide by, related with notable reticence, the author denies their substance any stature, except what the reader feels compelled to impart.
In a book that reads like a scrapbook of the times, it is also a story about an era and a class – post World War II Ontario – giving us a snapshot of Canada when men like Velvet's father would leave home for months at a time for the uncertainty of prospecting in Canada's north, a simpler world where urban children still lived like a village community, a time when Velvet can remember running out with wonder as her father landed a plane on her lawn... a more exotic time...
It is this objective view that Velvet has adopted for herself and for the reader, one outside the screen yet looking on, absorbed in but not overwhelmed by the world that plays out as she watches, the world that is her loam.
It is an honest book. And at its most intimate core, it's a book about courage. One little girl's journey through a childhood that's equal parts light and dark, joy and sorrow, and how at each fork in the road she decided to follow joy and embrace the light.
With her pony tail swinging, Velvet reminds us that, despite all our human failings and foibles, and the changing fortunes of life, there is always room in a muddled world for creativity, gallantry and magic.
Governor General award winning author of the memoirs 'Drumblair', 'Slipstream' and 'Horses in Her Hair'