________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 14 . . . . March 7, 2008


Mr. Karp’s Last Glass.

Cary Fagan. Illustrations by Selçuk Demirel.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2008.
94 pp., pbk. & hc., $8.95 (pbk.), $15.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-835-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88899-790-6.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Todd Kyle.

***1/2 /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


Mr. Karp did not get any personal mail - invitations, postcards, envelopes with a handwritten address. He received copies of a newsletter called The Drip (I couldn't see what it was about, as it was folded up and stapled) and small brown envelopes from someone named R. B. Purcell, Reliable Agent. Twice in the first month he also received small packages by special delivery. Like the crates, they were marked FRAGILE and PERISHABLE, and when Mr. Karp found one of these on the little table, signed for by my father or my sister, he would hurry up to his apartment, clutching it in his hands.

What the heck was Mr. Karp collecting? Bagels? Exotic fruit? Chocolate cream puffs?

Young Randolph is curious about the tenant that has moved into his family's house in order to help pay the bills when his father is unjustly fired for allegedly stealing from the store where he works. A collector of various things, he soon gains Karp's confidence and finds that the mysterious man collects, of all things, bottles of water from various historical events and places. While Karp is visiting Japan, hoping to purchase a bottle of melted snow from Napoleon's upturned hat during the Russian campaign (!), Randolph's father wins his wrongful dismissal lawsuit. Karp returns, pouring his collected water down the sink in a fit of frustration with how it has run his life. Randolph bottles the glass of water Karp was drinking as he leaves, thereby laying the foundations for his own future collection.

     Like Fagan's previous books, this short novel features a cast of slightly hyperbolic characters but with a slice of true pathos running though them, almost like a younger reader's Brian Doyle. The writing is sharp, witty and quirky, featuring both pointed narrative and almost obsessive detail, like any good collector! It is also full of Randolph's definitions of the more difficult words (one of his "collections"), lending it somewhat of an antique air, although it appears to be set in the present. And the list of water origins is both hilarious and educational in a fun way.

     As a story, it seems short on drama and action, yet its short length helps it avoid meandering, and the conclusion - where Randolph labels the glass of water "Mr. Karp's last glass" as was Karp's own habit - is a moment both satisfying and funny. Perhaps "drole" is a better word to describe it, as it is definitely a dry sense of humour that permeates this book.

     Although perhaps not a first pick for a reluctant reader, this book is sure to bring a smile to any thoughtful young boy or girl and pique the sense of humour of anyone to whom it is read aloud.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is a former President of the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians who is currently a library branch manager in Mississauga, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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