Robert Caligari is a thoroughly evil thirteen-year-old who gets his kicks from kicking pigs. After a humiliating episode with a bacon butty, Robert realizes just how much he loathes the human race – and his revenge is truly terrible.
Outrageous and funny, this subversive horror-fantasy from Tom Baker (ex-monk, ex-sailor, and the ultimate Doctor Who) has become a cult classic.
If you ever wonder where Tim Burton gets some of his more grotesque ideas, you can probably look no further than The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, a book revealing a side to Baker that is generally unrecognised…
This isn’t a long book; just over 120 pages, half of those are full-page illustrations by Roberts. Stylistically they are very reminiscent of Tim Burton’s artwork, and fit perfectly with the story; the images are a mixture of direct illustrations of events (with pithy captions) and scenes related to but not actually in The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, all in a uniform style that really is beautiful. The combination of Baker’s words and Robert’s illustrations is an excellent one, as each facing illustration sets the tone for an increasingly dark and yet still funny story.
The plot is really quite simple; Robert Caligari is an evil boy who kicks his sister’s piggybank for fun, and amuses others by doing so. This is just the most minor evil of the protagonist of The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, whose evil escalates itself from pig-kicking into an act so outrageously evil that approximately a third of the novel is given over to its dark ramifications; and yet, even with the discussion of the horrors of this act, Baker slips in humour and satire, about the news, about the emergency services, and more. This is perhaps the strongest part of the book, as the rest is good but light; here, however, Baker really does get into detail about unintended consequences of foolish actions.
This is also a really dark book. Forget the occasional use of words like “arse”; The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is graphic, not in a sexual sense but in a horrific sense. The end of the novel involves a character being eaten alive by rats while staked out helpless and bleeding, and this is presented in gruesome and graphic detail; similarly, the deaths-by-fire of a number of characters are related, again with wrenching brutality. This isn’t a kids book – or rather it is, but not the way Disney Princess novels are, but in an older, darker tradition.
In sum, in 124 pages, Tom Baker and David Roberts give us a modern, dark fable; The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is a wonderful, fairy-tale-esque piece of grotesque.