Journey Back To The Great Before is an epic tale with a cast of thousands of four-legged creatures and a handful of humans, all trying to find their way back to the halcyon days when all creatures - furry, feathered, invertebrate and human - lived in harmony with the ability to converse. Dr Dolittle, eat your heart out !
Totally unbeknownst to them, the human family have been specially chosen and, from their randomly-picked holiday home in the south of France, they must face a series of Herculean type challenges to prove their worth and integrity and be welcomed back into the animal kingdom. They are a fairly ordinary family from London - a scientifically-minded dad, a more boho mum and two children - who don't expect to be swept up into a mindblowing magical adventure. They could be the family next door so it's easy to relate to them - although their rather exotic, floral names (Zinnia, Verbena, Cosmos and Coriander) do instantly mark them out as somewhat unusual !
Following on the literary tradition of talking animal characters (such as in the classics Watership Down or Wind In The Willows), the book manages to give the creatures human traits, such as speech and free will, while holding on to the characteristics of their specific animal race. Despite being a tale of magical fantasy, the story also manages to touch on a few educational aspects to inspire curious minds - the ecological crisis that the world is finding itself in, hieroglyphs, bats, making compost ... !
As the Jolicoing family work their way through the different challenges, the book delivers a series of fable-like animal stories - an unlikely love story between a toad and a mouse, a crazy wild boar lettuce-football match, the animals' "fête de l'amour" ...
It's a charming, fantastical tale that would be great as a bedtime story read aloud in segments, but my only slight qualm is the length. At over 400 pages, I did find it a bit long-winded at times, particularly given the target age range, so young readers may fit it a bit on the long side.
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £12
Disclosure : We received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.