The Liszts got under my skin the first time I read it. I kept thinking about it, returning to it, struggling to bring all my thoughts about it to order. It’s serious and singular, eccentric and exciting, lavish and yet cuts right to the bone. Almost paralysed by how much I wanted to say about this incredible book, I reverted to that well-worn technique of breaking things down and making them seem more manageable: I made a list.
This seemed only appropriate given that The Liszts is the tale of a family obsessed with making lists. Any why not? Lists help us all feel like we can cope, like we have purpose, like we can achieve things.
But I’m not the only person in the world to have made a list and then questioned whether to do something that has arisen because it is not on the list. Have I really achieved anything if I complete something which I can’t cross off my list?
The Liszts are so obsessed with writing lists that when an unexpected visitor arrives they don’t know how to respond. He’s not part of their plan and so he’s dismissed and ignored.
Except by one of the children in the family.
One child is curious, and somehow the visitor and the child overcome the awkwardness of silent not-knowing-what-should-happen-next, to create a space where they can talk freely to each other. And then the doors open – just a chink – into a world of asking brave and bold and burning questions, of thinking big, of being open to opportunity and wonder and liberating possibility.
The family’s life isn’t changed in any loud, dramatic or spectacular fashion. There’s no cataclysmic or explosive denouement. But there is a quiet and substantial change; they learn from the visitor that leaving just a little bit of space for spontaneity reaps rewards. They come to see that when opportunity comes knocking, it’s worth seeing where it will lead you.
This 21st century story, told with delightful wordplay and atmospheric onomatopoeia, is grounded in terrifically moody, atmospheric and intensely rich and layered illustrations, oozing art-deco and cubist sophistication (though this isn’t a historical picture book – there are hilarious references to Bowie, Bauhaus, lego, Alien’s Ellen Riply alongside Julie Andrew’s Mary Poppins and more – just see who and what you can spot). It’s a rare, rewarding read, most definitely worth adding to your book wish list.
Whilst there’s layer upon layer in this book for adult readers to enjoy, there is also an enormous amount of kid appeal; the dark, mysterious tinge, the wacky, eclectic details, the fact that it is a child that brings a better way of life to his family, and then just the simple joy of listing crazy things, from favourite football players, to worst enemies, best bugs to dreaded chores. This is a game that all kids can have enormous fun with!
And so it was we turned to making some lists of our own.
In creating these lists there were many opportunities for being silly, but also for some rather thoughtful discussion. It was a writing activity which could be as simple or as complicated as people wanted it to be, and it’s created a sort of family archive of where we are right now, one that I think will warm my heart to look back on when the kids are much older.
Displayed in our hall, I think we might start asking visitors (unexpected or otherwise) to add their own favourite lists to ours… (my door is always open, especially for blog readers!)
Music which you might enjoy alongside this book includes:
Other activities which would go well with the book include:
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by its publisher, Andersen Press.