Growing up, The Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of my very favorite books, and I read it so many times. The amazing illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone still make me so happy and the story is just too perfect for words. More recently, I discovered that there was actually a sequel! And while The Starlight Barking was a little strange (and had actual magic), it was still a lot of fun. Now for some reason, Goodreads has The Midnight Kittens listed as Book #3 in the Hundred and One Dalmatian series, so I decided to give it a go. I found a secondhand copy on eBay, and was curious to see how it tied into the other two books. The short answer? It doesn’t. So that was the first disappointment.
The next disappointment was that this book just wasn’t… interesting? I’m not even sure what the word is that I’m looking for. I’ve only read a couple of Smith’s books. Most recently, I read I Capture the Castle, which, while it wasn’t an instant classic for me (as it is for so many others), I still found incredibly readable – the writing itself was a delight, and the story very well-crafted. But The Midnight Kittens lacked that. The story was directionless and the characters not particularly interesting. I just couldn’t get into it.
Basically, Tom and Pam are twins (around 12 years old) who have been going to school in London, but live with their Gram in Suffolk, as their parents died when the twins were quite young. The story revolves around a long weekend that they spend visiting Gram. Except… not much actually happens. They stay up late to see if they can see some wild hedgehogs come to eat the milk and bread Gram has set out, and instead see four kittens. Pam immediately decides that they are magic kittens (??). Over the course of the weekend, they take a tour of a local house, a run-down mansion called Freke Hall. The next day they go with Gram to visit a friend of hers in a nursing home, and staying in the same home is a very old lady who once lived in Freke Hall when she was a little girl. She tells Tom and Pam about a secret room where she once hid a painting. Tom and Pam sneak into the house when when they get home and find the secret room, and also meet some friendly squatters who are coming there to live (??). Meanwhile, the kittens appear at midnight each night, exactly at midnight, to eat their milk and bread. Tom is afraid to tell Gram about the kittens, because he isn’t sure if she will adopt them or have them put down (??). Eventually, the twins tell this whole story to Gram (along with some other side adventures I haven’t bothered to include) and Gram doesn’t believe them, because Pam used to tell made-up stories, and suddenly they are all emotionally devastated by the broken trust and Tom and Pam go back to school heavily burdened by the fact that Gram doesn’t believe them (??). But then Gram sees the kittens and calls them and tells them everything is fine and then everyone is happy la-de-da. ??????
It was all just so rambling and pointless! The kittens weren’t really that much of the story, it’s mostly Tom and Pam being obnoxious children – this book made me feel so old, because all I could do was roll my eyes at the way the twins were so annoying condescending towards their Gram the entire time – explaining to her how Tom is now agnostic and Pam is an atheist and how sad it is that people still believe in God (despite the fact that Gram does). They’re always giving Gram advice about how she should be running her household and ways that she could be saving money and I don’t know, they just seemed so bratty the entire time, which is probably why I found this book so tedious. They were SUCH know-it-alls.
The whole book was very disjointed and kind of read like a weird dream. It was fairly short, for which I was thankful. I was quite disappointed in this story, but at least I don’t have to worry about making room for The Midnight Kittens on my permanent bookshelves.