Cover image for Pobby and Dingan
Pobby and Dingan
Rice, Ben, 1972-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf, [2000]

Physical Description:
93 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Pobby and Dingan live in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales, the opal capital of Australia. They are friends with Kellyanne Williamson, the daughter of an opal miner, but only Kellyanne can see them. Pobby and Dingan are imaginary. Ashmol Williamson, Kellyanne's brother, thinks his sister should grow up and stop being such a fruit loop. Until the day, that is, when Pobby and Dingan disappear--the same day that Ashmol and Kellyanne's father is accused of "ratting" (poaching on someone else's land), the worst sin an opal miner can commit. As Kellyanne--grief-stricken and suddenly, mysteriously, ill--begins to fade away, Ashmol recruits the whole town in a search for Pobby and Dingan. In the end, however, he discovers that only he can find them, and that he can only find them if he too believes they are real. Funny, deeply moving and told without a wasted word, Pobby and Dingan--the debut of a prodigiously gifted new writer--is an enchanting story.

Author Notes

Ben Rice lives in London. This is his first book.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ashmol Williamson has had enough of his younger sister Kellyanne and her best friends Pobby and Dingan. Only Kellyanne can see the imaginary pair, but much to Ashmol's dismay, many in the small Australian mining town treat Pobby and Dingan as if they were real. Ashmol's dad has established a reputation as the town drunk, and one day, while on a walk with Pobby and Dingan, he loses the two friends, and Kellyanne becomes despondent. Realizing that finding Pobby and Dingan is the only way to bring his sister out of her severe depression and ease the minds of his parents, Ashmol sets out to enlist the people of Lightning Ridge in a search to bring the pair back to Kellyanne. What shines throughout is Ashmol's narrative voice, and his blunt humor shapes this fable into an excellent read for young and old. Rice has carved characters (real and imaginary) that belong alongside Scout and Jem. --Michelle Kaske

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his taut debut novel, a fable about how dreams can ennoble life, Rice uses words sparingly to show that even ordinary people can behave heroically to help those they love. He evokes the small town of Lightning Ridge, Australia's opal capital, and its eccentric residents, as the atmospheric background to a story celebrating the need for tolerance of individual idiosyncrasies. Despite bizarre characters like Fat Walt, who owns the "house-made-completely-from-bottles," and Domingo the castle builder, Ashmol Williamson believes that his younger sister, eight-year-old Kellyanne, is an exceptionally peculiar "fruitloop." After all, her best and only friends, Pobby and Dingan, are imaginary. While Kellyanne shares her "lollies" and Violet Crumble chocolate bars with her fantasy friends, the ever skeptic Ashmol makes sure to express his disapproval by "tutting" between gulps of his Mellow Yellow. Yet when Kellyanne's health begins to decline shortly after her miner father "loses" her "fairy-friends" at his opal claim, narrator Ashmol sets out on his "chopper" (a bicycle with cardboard attached to the spokes) to organize a search party. Hoping that his sister will eventually find Pobby and Dingan herself if she sees that other people think (or pretend) they're real, Ashmol pedals from bars to bowling clubs, announcing his purpose and posting signs. The next day, good-natured friends and neighbors set about searching under bushes and around trees, but their attempts prove futile as Kellyanne's health continues to deteriorate. Desperate to save his sister, Ashmol finally realizes that only he can find Pobby and Dingan by believing in their existence. Just as Peter Pan entreats the audience to clap if they believe in fairies, Rice's touching tale asks the reader as well as the citizens of Lightning Ridge to have faith in the invisible. 50,000 first printing; BOMC alternate. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Little Kellyanne Williamson has fallen ill, seemingly in mourning for her lost friends, Pobby and Dingan. Of course, everyone in the town of Lightning Ridge, New South Wales, knows that Pobby and Dingan are imaginary, including Kellyanne's family. But her ineffectual dad volunteers to go looking for them at the mine where he works, scuttling to find opals, and gets accused of "ratting" on someone else's claimDwhich costs him dearly in this dirt-poor town. Then, surprisingly himself, Kellyanne's heretofore exasperated brother takes up the cause, and soon he has persuaded many of the townsfolk to search for the lost friends as well. Through this heartbreaking little fable, first novelist Rice shows "what it is to believe in something which is hard to see, [and] to keep looking for something which is totally hard to find." The novel could have been treacly, but Rice instead delivers a lesson in faith and humility in tough, sinewy, wholly unsentimental prose. This could well attract more than just literary readers.DBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Kellyanne opened the car door and crawled into my bedroom. Her face was puffy and pale and fuzzed-over. She jsut came in and said: "Ashmol, Pobby and Dingan are maybe-dead." That's how she said it. "Good," I said. "Perhaps you'll grow up now and stop being such a fruit loop." Tears started sliding down her face. But I wasn't feeling any sympathy, and neither would you if you'd grown up with Pobby and Dingan. "Pobby and Dingan aren't dead," I said, hiding my anger in a swig from my can of Mello Yello. "They never existed. Things that never existed can't be dead. Right?" Kellyanne glared at me through tears the way she did the time I slammed the door of the ute in Dingan's face or the time I walked over to where Pobby was supposed to be sitting and punched the air  and kicked the air in the head to show Kellyanne that Pobby was a figment of her imaginings. I don't know how many times I had sat at the dinner table saying: "Mum,  why do you have to set places for Pobby and Dingam? They aren't even real." She put food out for them too. She said they were quieter and better behaved than me and deserved the grub. "They ain't exactly good conversationalists, but," I would say. And at other times when Kellyanne held out Pobby and Dingan were real I would just sit there saying, "Are not. Are not. Are not," until she bot bored of saying, "Are. Are. Are," and went running out screaming with her hands over her ears. And many times I've wanted to kill Pobby and Dingan, I don't mind saying it. My dad would come back from the opal mines covered in dust, his beard like the back end of a dog that's shat all over its tail.  He would be saying: "Ashmol, I sensed it today! Tomorrow we'll be on opal, son, and we'll be bloody millionaires! I can feel those bewdies sitting there in the drives, staring back at me. Checking me out. Waiting. They're red-on-blacks, Ashmol, I'll bet you anything! There's rumours going that Lucky Jes has taken out a million-dollar stone and a fossilized mammoth tooth with sun-flash in it. We're close, boy. Close. There's definitely something in that earth with the name Williamson on it! "Fairdinkum?" His excitement always caught ahold of me.  I would get a tingle down my neck and I would sit there with my ears pricking up like a hound's, my tongue hanging out, watching my dad's eyes darting around in his head. They were strange eyes -- blue and green and with a flicker of gold in them. "Eyes like opals," my mom once said with a sigh, "only a little easier to find." Well, while Dad was pacing around the yard brushing himself off a bit and swigging from a stubby of V.B., Kellyanne would say, "Dad, be careful! You almost trod on Pobby with your fat feet! Watch what you're doing!" But Dad would be too excited to do anything but say: "Aw, sorry princess. Did I tread on your fairy-friends?" That was Dad. Me and him never took Pobby and Dingan seriously one bit. But there were others who did. The older, softer sort of folks in Lightning Ridge had sort of taken to Pobby and Dingan. They had totally given up throwing Kellyanne funny looks and teasing her about them. Now when she walked down Opal Street, some of the old-timers would stop and shout: "G-day, Kellyanne, g-day, Pobby, and how's Miss Dingan doin' today?" It made you want to be sick all over the place. Lightning Ridge was full of flaming crackpots as far as I could see. It was like the sun had burnt out their brains. Now, I was as much a rockhound as the next kid, but I wasn't crazy enough to talk to imaginary friends, I'll tell you that for nothing. But one time Ernie Finch let Kellyanne enter Dingan in for the Opal Princess competition because Kellyanne had a cold. I'm not kidding. And the judges voted Dingan third place, and Nils O'Reiordan from the newspaper came and took photographs of Kellyanne with her arm around Dingan's invisible shoulder, and made out he was asking Dingan questions and everything. It was embarassing. When the newspaper came out there was a picture of Kellyanne wearing a little silver crown over her long blond hair, and underneath there was this sentence saying: Two Opal Princesses -- Kellyanne Williamson (aged eight) and her invisible friend Dingan, who won third prize in this year's Opal Princess competition . Plus, every time  we went to Khan's, Mrs. Schwartz would hand my sister three lollies and say, "There you go, Kellyanne. One for you, one for Pobby and one for Dingan. They look like they're both doing good." Everybody knew everybody in Lightning Ridge. Ad some people even knew nobody as well, it seemed. Pobby and Dingan fit into that little town just fine. "Find anything today?" Mum asked one night when she'd got back from her job on the checkout at Khan's and me and Dad were relaxing after a hard afternoon's work out at the claim. "Potch. Nothing special." "Nothing?" I could see Kellyanne through the window over Dad's shoulder. She was sitting out back on a pile of stones talking to Pobby and Dingan, her mouth moving up and down, her hands waving around like she was explaining something to them. But all she was really talking to was the night and a few gallahs. And if she was honest she would have admitted it there and then. "Where's my little girl?" Dad asked. "Outside playing with some friends," said my mum, fixing my dad with a look straight between the eyes. "Pobby and Dingan?" "Yup." My dad sighed. "Jesus! That girl's round the twist," he said. "No she isn't," said my mum, "she's just different." "She's a fruit loop," I said. "I kind of wish they were real friends, Mum," Dad said. "She don't seem to get on with the other kids around here too much." "What' d'you expect?" said my mum, raising her voice and putting her hands on her hips. "What d'you bloody expect when you drag your family to a place like Lightning Ridge? What d'you bloody expect to happen when you bring up an intelligent girl like Kellyanne in a place full of holes and criminals and freaks?" "I still say Kellyanne could do with some real-live mates," went on my dad, as if he was talking to someone inside his beer. Mum had stomped off into the kitchen. "Maybe they are real!" she shouted back at him after rattling a few plates together. "Ever thought about that, ye of little bloody imagination?" My dad pulled a face. "Who? Pobby and Dingan? Ha!" He drained his beer can, positioned it standing up on the floor and stamped on it until it was a disc of metal. Then he threw me a wink as if to say: "Here comes the next wave of the attack, Ashmol!" And it came. "Damn, Rex! You make me so bloody angry. Honestly! you haven't found any opal in two years. Not a glimpse of it. And opal's real enough for you . You don't stop dreaming about it and talking in your sleep to it like a lover! Well, as far as I'm concerned your bloody opal doesn't exist either!" But that was a stupid thing for Mum to say, because the shops were full of opal and there were pictures of it everywhere and everybody was talking about it and the Japanese buyers forked out a whole heap of dollars for it. That's a fact. I saw them doing it with my own eyes out at Hawk's Nest. Well, after my mum said this stuff about opal and after she'd done her usual piece about there being no money left in the tin under the bed, Dad sulked around a bit and kicked a few rocks around out in the yard. But then suddenly the door swung open and he came in full of energy like a new man and with a strange smile on his face. And what did he do? He started asking Kellyanne about Pobby and Dingan and how their days had been and what they were doing tomorrow. and he had never done that before in his life, ever. But he did it in a voice so you weren't too sure if he was joking around or not.  Kellyanne was studying his face carefully, trying to work him out for herself. And so was I. And so was Mum. And then Dad asked Kellyanne if he could run Pobby and Dingan a bath. And he asked straight-faced and honest-sounding and Kellyanne eventually said yes, that was all right, but only she was allowed to dry them after it. I said: "Dad, what the hell are you doing? You know all that Pobby and Dingan stuff's just horseshit! She'll never grow out of it if you talk like that!" And Dad answered, looking at his feet: "No, Ashmol. I think I've been unfair on Pobby and Dingan. I think that they do exist after all! I just haven't, like, recognized it until now." He grinned and rubbed his hands together and disappeared into the bathroom to run the taps while Kellyanne stood there glowing with pride and flashing me a smile from the doorway which made me feel sick. I looked at Mum, but she had a contented look on her face and started setting about making tea and cookies. I sat at the table feeling like someone had marooned me on a desert island. Well, I don't like thinking about it, but from that moment on my dad became a total dag. Now when he got up in the morning and woke up Kellyanne for school he would wake up Pobby and Dingan too. Yes, he would. He started talking to them like they was real people. And he wasted all kinds of money on buying them birthday presents too -- good money that could have gone into a better generator if you ask me. Oh, yes, Dad had himself some fun by going along with the Pobby and Dingan thing.  One time he even took Kellyanne, Pobby, and Dingan out to the Bore Baths in the ute. When I ran out to join them with my towel around my shoulders, my dad shouted: "Sorry son. Can't take you today, Ashmol. Not enough room with Pobby and Dingan in here." He waved out of the window with a big smile on his face and drove off thinking he was a funny kind of bloke. Sometimes Mum would ask him to come and help with the washing up. But no! Dad was helping Pobby and Dingan get dressed or helping them with their homework. Kellyanne loved it. But Mum went a bit strange. I don't think she could decide if she was angry or pleased that Dad had become mates with Pobby and Dingan. And I think even Kellyanne began to realize pretty soon that Dad was only doing it to get back at Mum for having a go at him or something. He wasn't a very subtle sort of bloke, my dad, when it came down to it. He drank too much for a start and spent too much time underground in the dark. Excerpted from Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.