Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn and Pub draws the most interesting characters. There are the regulars, of course. The observant Mr. Dickens is in quite often, and his friends Wilkie Collins and William Makepeace Thackeray visit now and again. There’s the staff, including a cook who depends on more than a secret recipe to produce her famous Cheshire Cheese, and a maid with a remarkable talent for discovering mice (and an unfortunate, blithering terror of the same). Turn your eyes downward, and you’ll discover a black cat who smells strangely of…cheese?…and a bold little mouse apparently fascinated by Mr. Dickens’s latest project. And then there’s the queen…but that would take far more explaining that we’ve room for here.
Listening to The Cheshire Cheese Cat, I couldn’t help but think of both The Tale of Despereaux, with its literate mouse and affectionate human girl, and the Jacky Faber books, which take place in a similar time and place and are also narrated by Katherine Kellgren. While I’m a big fan of both, one of the things that impressed me most about this book was the fact that even with these similarities, The Cheshire Cheese Cat stood out as distinct, both in story and narration. Deedy and Wright’s story mixes fascinating bits of real history (see below), a touch of speculation — how did Dickens overcome writer’s block? — and a string of perfectly-timed complications to tell a story about friendship and honesty that will keep readers and listeners engaged from start to finish. Kellgren, for her part, creates a whole new set of voices for these characters, so that while the accents will be familiar to those who know Jacky, the characters themselves are unique. A great choice for bedtime installments, or a family roadtrip this summer.