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Dickens of a story

The cover artwork by David Roberts for Philip Ardagh's Awful End (Faber pound;4.99) and the sketches that illustrate this mad, mad, mad novel are the perfect visual match for the author's quirky imagination.

The world depicted here is of the 19th century as it might have been if the heyday of Surrealism had been 50 years earlier. In a foreword, Ardagh says the book was written to amuse a nephew at boarding school and the narrative voice is that of a crazy uncle.

There are regular digressions, most humorous but some historical - this is Ardagh wearing his more familiar non-fction hat.

He calls his chapters "episodes" and no reader will get to the end of Episode 1 without realising that they are in for a read the like of which they have never experienced.

Eddie Dickens' parents have caught a mysterious disease that has turned them yellow and crinkly and confined them to bed under brown paper sheets.

Eddie is going to have to stay at Awful End with Mad Uncle Jack, who makes his entrance from a wardrobe and rides his horse up the stairs. Pupils in Year 4 and above with a taste for off-the-wall narrative will enjoy this tale.

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