Edwina Wyatt’s In the Evening concerns itself with that ‘time of day’ when not only the light changes, but how our perceptions of the world around us can be affected too. It is the time described in a common French idiom as “the hour between the wolf and the dog” – when the light can cause you to confuse the friendly dog and the unfriendly wolf. A stanza from Emily Dickinson, used as an epigraph, describes this effect.
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Both the story and the illustrations are, in the strict sense of the word, fabulous. At the launch of her book Edwina Wyatt described the relationship between writer and illustrator as the “co-imagining” of a story. This is an example of “co-imagining” at its best.
The book introduces us to Charlie and Oscar who are neighbours but not yet neighbourly. They spend their evenings differently, apart, but observing each other. The images of these endearing squirrely characters have a mythical quality; their story has universal resonance while at the same time showing homely particulars of how these two begin a friendship. This layering of meaning is expressed verbally in the story’s ‘fable’ quality and visually in the wash of watercolour over clear outlines. Gaye Chapman’s artwork was inspired by the atmospheric paintings of JMW Turner, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Gaye Chapman used loose washes of transparent watercolours and tea over graphite and coloured pencils and spatterings of masking-fluid stars, rain and snow.
The story has significance for Charlie and Oscar and for everyone, for this place and everywhere. In appreciating the story of the two creatures, children see possibilities for dealing with their own times of fearfulness and doubt.
Recurring uncertainty is expressed in the repetition of the line, “Oscar didn’t know what to do” – a feeling every child and every adult will know. But the cycle is broken with a gesture of outreach. Oscar begins to “hope” for more signs of friendship from Charlie, and makes a move. A “knock, knock” on Charlie’s door, and a “hello” lead to an evening of delightful conviviality.
“That evening, bellies ached from laughter.
That evening, spoons went back for thirds.”
That “slant of light” that “oppresses” has been displaced by illuminated windows and a cosy fireside as “the night had just begun.” So too has a friendship and an understanding. “Knock, knock” and “Hello!” won’t be strange sounds to Charlie any more.
There is a lesson here in this whimsical fable, but it’s conveyed with the lightest touch.
REVIEWED BY DIANNE COOK