Pobby and Dingan

Pobby and Dingan

4.5 15
by Ben Rice

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This enchanting tale is at once a beautifully rendered narrative of childhood loss and a powerfully simple fable about the necessity of imagination.

Pobby and Dingan are Kellyanne Williamson’s best friends, maybe her only friends, and only she can see them. Kellyanne’s brother, Ashmol, can’t see them and doesn’t believe they exist


This enchanting tale is at once a beautifully rendered narrative of childhood loss and a powerfully simple fable about the necessity of imagination.

Pobby and Dingan are Kellyanne Williamson’s best friends, maybe her only friends, and only she can see them. Kellyanne’s brother, Ashmol, can’t see them and doesn’t believe they exist anywhere but in Kellyanne’s immature imagination. Only when Pobby and Dingan disappear and Kellyanne becomes heartsick over their loss does Ashmol realize that not only must he believe in Pobby and Dingan, he must convince others to believe in them, too.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Rice's first novel is an affecting study of innocence lost and regained. Rex Williamson, a well-meaning drunk in search of fortune, relocates his family from England to Lightning Ridge, Australia, in order to mine for opals. His eight-year-old daughter Kellyanne's two best friends, Pobby and Dingan, disappear in the opal mines after Rex invites them along for the day. The disappearance of her "maybe-dead" friends is complicated by one insurmountable factor: Pobby and Dingan are imaginary. Kellyanne grows increasingly despondent over her loss until her brother Ashmol, the story's narrator, begrudgingly rallies the troops of the town in search of the invisible duo. Kellyanne's belief in her imaginary friends parallels the Williamsons' dire faith in finding the yet-unseen opals. In Lightning Ridge, Rice has created an enchanting fictional world that lives and breathes, as Ashmol's adolescent digressions exhibit the author's knack for unforgettable characters. The book, which invokes a sense of innocence, beautifully articulates childhood's life-changing moments.
—Ann B. Stephenson

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
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 claim--which 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.--Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Jeff Giles
Ben Rice has arrived. Pobby and Dingan is an enormously touching, imaginative and unexpected novel that just glows in your hands. It's like one of those old Italo Calvino books that gave you a contact high -- not the smarty-pants, postmodern stuff but the fables like The Baron in the Trees. What's so extraordinary about Rice's novel is how unpredictable it is, how effortlessly it mingles whimsy and gravitas, how its plot races ahead long after you figured it would run out of gas and pull over to the side of the road.
New York Times Book Review
New Yorker
Startlingly strange, in the best sense, and Rice's pitch-perfect prose finally leads us, like Ashmol, "to believe in something which is hard to see."
Kirkus Reviews
Out of Australia's roughandtumble opal country, Londondwelling Rice's debut extracts a sweet little nougat—or, it might be said, a chunk of shameless melodrama.

From the Publisher
“Unforgettable. . . . An enormously touching, imaginative and unexpected novel that just glows in your hands.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Glorious. . . . Ben Rice has crafted a charming, deceptively simple story, then given it color, richness and depth.” -New York Post

“By turns quirky, shocking, moving, funny, fantastical and all too real. . . . [Rice is] an almost astonishingly gifted writer.” —The Observer (London)

“A gem. . . . odd, bewitching, and memorable.” –The Commercial Appeal

“Packed with more winning details and full-blooded characters than many over-stuffed novels.” —Houston Chronicle

“At once delicate and down to earth . . . [Pobby and Dingan] has a quiet strength.” –The Washington Post

“A disarmingly gentle yet disturbingly layered tale about buried truths.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Wondrous and moving. . . . Downright charming. . . . A winner.” –The Arizona Republic

“Rice has fashioned a fable that will echo in reader’s imaginations every time they catch themselves communicating with loved ones who are not strictly beside them.” —Boston Herald

“Rice has created an enchanting fictional world that lives and breathes . . . [and] beautifully articulates childhood's life-changing moments.” –Book Magazine

"Quirky, moving and completely unexpected. It will charm all but the most determined cynic.” —Daily Telegraph

“Original, witty and entertaining.” –Rocky Mountain News

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Random House
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Read an Excerpt

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!


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."


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?"


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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

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

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Pobby and Dingan 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What do i do?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know. Ses my mate. Trying to break it to fericefire slowly and softly. Help me out!! Call me dad or something! BD
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw the movie "Opal Dream". I cried. The movie was amazing. Later that night i found out it was a book. I thought "a must read". I bough it this morning. I know it is going to be an awesome book. And i haven't even finished the first chapter yet. (I bought it this morning)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
seldombites More than 1 year ago
The edition I read was called Opal Dream. This is a charming and heartbreaking story set in the opal fields of Lightning Ridge. The author uses words with skill. We feel the hot, dusty air in our lungs, we experience the ostracism and community of spirit of small town Australia and our hearts tear in two for the unhappy little girl who has lost her friends. This book may be short, but it is potent. I highly recommend it. There is another short story included at the end of the book entitled Specks in the Sky. It is strange and confusing and worth skipping over.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
cant put it down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am reading it in class and it is very well done
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
My dad gave me this book for Christmas when I was 22 yrs old. I had never heard of it and thought 'OK, I have a bood about imaginary friends in Australia. Now what do I do?' Yet when I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. It was such a simple story, a great pick-me-up. I loaned it to a roommate in college when she was having a rough weekend; I never got it back. I hope she passed it on to a friend to lift another's spirit.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book...ben rice has a great imagination...ad knows exactly what goes on in the ming of a little girl...The whole town knew who Pobby and Dingan was..and the only person who ddin't believe in Pobby and Dingan was ASHMOL....he finally believe inthem in the end...because even if pobby and dingan arent real people...ashmol realized u just have to believe....the end was very sad....shh i cant tell what it is. GREAT FOR kids 9through 15
Guest More than 1 year ago
A touching and beautiful novel that will leave you uplifted and yet wistful. Easily read in one morning.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My father bought me this book for Christmas one year. I had never heard of it and I wondered how he ever decided to give it to me as a gift. I soon realized why; it is a delightful story about the joys and concerns of childhood, perfect for anyone who wants to remember for a bit what it was like to be 8 years old. It is a great book for a rainy afternoon...it is short and uplifting, even though it brought a tear to my eye.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a Lightning Ridge resident that was taken by Bens novel,the only down fall I can see is the promotion of this excellent story has not been shared among the township of Lightning Ridge. Nobody has heard of Pobby & Dingan. When Ben visited he took so many details that would mean alot to Lightning Ridge folk, but they dont even realise that they are in such a heart-warming novel. Please share this with Lightning ridge.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pobby and Dingan is a rough cut jewel of a book that you will pick up and turn over and over again in your memory after reading it. The story concerns the world of children, a boy and his sister living in an Australian opal mining town, but takes you well beyond that particular time and place. This one is a small treasure.