Orlando, the Marmalade Cat: A Trip Abroad by Kathleen Hale

More in the Series – Orlando
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

This, for me at least, was a much more enjoyable book than the first Orlando book. Somehow he was a lot less obnoxious and condescending, though that may be because he left his ‘wife’ Grace at home for the entirety of this adventure.

Grace is the only named female character, and she gets no dialogue at all, so it’s a pretty sound Bechdel fail. The characters are all definitely very white, although, I suppose, at least this book has some French people in it for variety. There are almost no women though, and the female characters that exist are pretty much just there for the sake of the male characters. This is most notable in the French Cafe Concert scene, where the women serve no purpose beyond fawning on our intrepid hero.

Ideologically it’s a bit iffy too. He takes his ‘kittens’ off on holiday to give his ‘wife’ a rest, but then abandons them with his human ‘Master’ while he gallavants off to France. It’s portrayed as an accident – like he totally didn’t intend to end up on a ship crossing the channel – but there’s definitely a bit of that old school “don’t trust a man with the children” thing going on, which, frankly, is pretty damned insulting to all the awesome dads out there.

There are a lot of French stereotypes too. It’s all eating snails and drinking wine and parties. There’s a definite sense of the “charming strange foreigners” that smells a bit of British imperialism, but I suppose that’s to be expected of a book of its time.

Having said all that, it was generally a lot more entertaining than the first book, if you ignore all the ideological dodginess. Orlando is a bit of a ponce, but he is rather devil-may-care and entertaining for all that. There is something a bit 20s rogue about him, if you know what I mean. Which has its charm, and is a lot less annoying when he’s not talking to Grace like she’s a child (especially given what a man-child he proves himself to be in this book).

C seemed to enjoy it, although even at five he spotted the continuity error (why, if he didn’t mean to be on the boat, did he have his luggage with him, luggage he definitely doesn’t have in the earlier scenes?). He was engrossed though, and fascinated by the snippets of French scattered through the book.

So, I wouldn’t put it at the top of my recommended list, but it was definitely a step up from the first book.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Orlando?



Orlando, the Marmalade Cat: A Camping Holiday – Kathleen Hale

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

Bechdel:  0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 1 point
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

I really wanted to like this book – it is so damned pretty to look at! The version we got out of the library was a massive hardcover, the cover is charming, the illustrations are beautiful, but oh my god, the story is facepalm-worthy.

In short, Orlando takes his (oh so 30s) family on a camping holiday. I’ve mentioned in the past that I prefer animal stories where the animals act like animals, so this one is already on the back foot with me, with its patriarchally smug protagonist who gives instructions to his ‘wife’, Grace, as if she is one of the kittens. The gender roles are so entrenched it almost hurts, and Orlando is frankly annoying as hell. But worse than that for me is the fact that the cats alternate between being cat-like (fishing with their claws and talking about eating caterpillars “more out of friendliness than hunger”) and being entirely human in the most pompously 1930s British middle class way imaginable.

Christopher did seem to enjoy it though – I will give it that. It is quite long, but he sat still and listened to the whole thing, and gave it a thumbs up at the end. The illustrations are pretty neat, but that’s about the best thing i can say about it.

I suppose if you’re into old-school British nostalgia, you may enjoy the descriptions of camping in the 30s, complete with painting lessons by the river and sing alongs at night, but I found it fairly saccharine.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Orlando? Do you enjoy animal books where the animals act like humans?