Goodbye Christopher Robin by Ann Thwaite review

Hi everyone! Today I am reviewing Goodbye Christopher Robin by Ann Thwaite, an abridged text taken from Thwaite’s 1990 biography of A.A Milne. In this new edition, there is a lovely introduction by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, one of the screenwriters of the recently released film of the same name, as well as a new preface by Thwaite herself.

Goodbye Christopher Robin begins in 1919 when A.A Milne is having success as a playwright, with his shows being performed up and down the country and in the States. His only child, Christopher Robin, was born in the following year and would obviously become the inspiration for his father’s most famous stories. The reader follows A.A Milne as he starts to write his children’s books, beginning with When We Were Very Young to The House at Pooh Corner and his subsequent refusal to write anymore. We also witness how Christopher and his toys influence his father’s writing, leading to the creation of Winnie-the-Pooh.

To be truthful I knew very little about A.A Milne. I obviously knew Winnie-the-Pooh (I may or may not still have a cereal bowl with his face on it), and I knew he had written a detective novel but that was it. I don’t think that affected my enjoyment of the book. Thwaite does a great job of clearly explaining events as well as Milne’s work. She goes into a lot of detail and you really gain a great understanding of the Milnes and what they went through during this period. While I do now want to pick up his poetry, it isn’t necessary beforehand. I didn’t feel I lost anything by reading the book first.

I also really liked how Thwaite added various sources into the text. We read snippets of both Milnes’ autobiographies, numerous letters and interviews, and critics’ opinions, both recent and contemporaries of Milne. I found these parts particularly fascinating, especially reading about the relationship between father and son, with both of them giving their views on the subject and not always agreeing with one another. Those moments felt quite poignant, and made the disintegration of their relationship later on seem tragic. I’m not sure if they ever, or if they could, communicate with each other well, which I found in turns both frustrating and saddening.

The inclusion of the critics I found interesting as well. They stop the book from being a by-the-numbers biography where we merely follow Milne’s life. You are given an insight into how his works were perceived. Whilst his four children’s books were generally well received there were some detractors, most notably Dorothy Parker. I enjoyed reading about the books in a critical context, seeing how they fitted into the literary scene of the period. The addition of more modern critics helped to emphasise the enduring legacy of Winnie-the-Pooh, and how people can read and interpret those stories in many ways decades after they were first written.

I really enjoyed Goodbye Christopher Robin. Like I said I really want to read some of Milne’s work now, and Thwaite’s full biography as we focus mainly on the Twenties here. She writes so clearly and eloquently that I think anyone, whether you’re a massive fan of Milne or a complete novice, can understand and gain something from it. The inclusion of various voices such as the Milnes themselves or critics helped to invoke the events Thwaite describes. I haven’t yet seen the film though I’m planning to, but if it’s as good as this book I’m sure I’ll enjoy it immensely.

Have you seen the film and what did you think of it? Or do you have any recommendations on where to start with Milne? Let me know in the comments!

Goodbye Christopher Robin is published by Pan Books and more information can be found here.

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