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The Catalogue of the Universe, Margaret Mahy

April 26, 2011

The Catalogue of the Universe Book blurb

The Catalogue of the Universe, Margaret Mahy

“Angela took out her dark glasses and put them on even though they were sitting in the shade.  ‘What’s going on?’ said Tycho.  Angela did not reply directly.  ‘Don’t look so guilty,’ she said. ‘It’s nothing wrong.’ ‘It’s not guilt,’ he told her. ‘I’m anxious.  I don’t know what you’re up to, but I’ve got the feeling it’s something I won’t want to be mixed up in.’

Angela May and Tycho Potter couldn’t be more different.  Angela is popular and sexy; Tyke prefers the company of his books and watching the skies through his telescope.  They are worlds apart in so many ways, yet these two 18-year-olds are unlikely best friends.  But after a dramatic confrontation, it is to Tycho she turns for support and the repercussions touch everyone around them.

A heartwarming, humorous and emotional novel from Carnegie Medal-winning author, Margaret Mahy.”

Back cover, Mahy, Margaret (2002) The Catalogue of the Universe.  Collins Flamingo: London.

The Catalogue of the Universe First Page

“1 Moonshine

One hot summer night, Angela woke up and found she could not go back to sleep again for, beyond her closed lids, the room was infected with disturbing silver.  In the end she gave in to wakefulness in her own stubborn way, getting up but refusing to open her eyes, feeling her way from place to place, choosing to see by touch and memory rather than by alien light.  She was irritated with the moon for invading her sleeping time with a light that was not even its own, but stolen from the sun and hastily passed on, and for looking in at her window with its implacable white face.  Her friend Tycho Potter, given as he was to passing on information that not many people particularly wanted to hear, had once told her that an ancient Greek, an Ionian scientist called Anaximander, had been the first person to work out that the moon might shine by reflected light alone.

‘Big deal!’ Angela had said, but now she remembered Anaximander in spite of herself, for understanding moonlight was not just simple, but another mysterious victory for the human mind.

Angela, eyes tight, groped her way along the settee under….”

p7, Mahy, Margaret (2002) The Catalogue of the Universe.  Collins Flamingo: London.

Themes in the novel


Possible directions for study/questions to apply to The Catalogue of the Universe:


The Catalogue of the Universe, Margaret Mahy

  • There are at least two families contrasted with each other within the novel (Tycho’s and Angela’s)… what does this say about families? How are families a site for development, change, difficulty in this novel?
  • How do the families in The Catalogue of the Universe compare with families in others of Mahy’s novels? …with other authors’ novels – say, De Goldi’s The 10pm Question … or with novels that don’t include families in this way (Ella West’s Thieves series or VM Jones’s Karazan Quartet…)
  • What kind of community surrounds Angela and Tycho? What role does this community play? Is it ‘normal’ (Angela’s father is absent…)?
  • How do we get a sense of what is normal/different from this text or is it implied to a reader from the same culture as this text…? Is it described/explained outright (eg. Tycho vs Angela in terms of ‘normal’ – their families, their characters, strengths, weaknesses, appearance, ‘inner beauty’ etc)?
  • Is there a strong sense of place in this novel?
  • How important is the setting to the story told?
  • Are these characters strong/weak?… (how do you know this?) How does this shape the story being told? If strong – where do they get their strength from; if weak – where does this come from?
  • Where do the main characters’ strengths/weaknesses come from/lie? Are they social, physical, internal, familial, communal, economic, spiritual, etc.? Do the characters have imagination, ‘inherent’ abilities, ‘taught’/’learned’ skills, ‘personalities’ to draw on…?
  • Mahy always uses language in a very playful, intricate fashion… what language does she make use of in this novel and how does it help tell this story? shape these characters?
  • People often comment that this is not one of Margaret Mahy’s fantasies (but one of her few realistic novels).  However, Mahy still uses language in a way that makes the world seem both alive and magical… does she actually seem to use different language in this novel than in her fantasies? What effect does it have on the ‘realistic’ nature of this work?
  • Margaret Mahy has written a number of essays and been interviewed numerous times.  In these she gives her opinions on various things… what does Mahy herself say about these themes (place, family, fathers, etc)? Does this inform one’s reading of The Catalogue of the Universe?
  • To be cont…
Meanwhile, look at other blogs on Margaret Mahy and her work etc.

Texts that invite comparison

Basically forthcoming…

Other Margaret Mahy books, …

Bernard Beckett’s Malcolm and Juliet?

There’s a list of NCEA level 1 books online in which The Catalogue of the Universe is included… perhaps there is something that links these… still thinking…

How to use this blog

Mindmaps help me think critically.  They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’  This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas.

  • There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
  • You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
  • Each time I bring an author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
  • I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
  • I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
  • These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).
  • I absolutely welcome discussion: comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms… please add them!

Mahy’s The Catalogue of the Universe: a History

Awards won:  

The Catalogue of the Universe - Margaret Mahy

None that I know of…

Publishing History:

First published by J. M. Dent & Sons (1985), the book is now published by Harper Collins.

Bibliography of secondary literature:

  • ‘Margaret Mahy’s The Catalogue of the Universe:  Wobbles, Asymmetry, and Dangerous Edges’, by Hilary S. Crew (freely available download)
  • Patricia P. Kelly “Finding One’s Place in the World: The Catalogue of the Universe.” Lost Masterworks of Young Adult Literature. Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2002. Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Dana Ferguson. Vol. 155. Detroit: Gale.
  • Michael Pohl’s thesis Classical Myth and Margaret Mahy’s Young Adult Fiction (freely available download).
  • ‘Rivalry, rejection, and recovery: Variations of the Cinderella story’ John Gough in Children’s Literature in Education 21(2)1990
  • A Made-Up Place: New Zealand in Young Adult Fiction, by Anna Jackson, Geoffrey Miles, Harry Ricketts, Tatjana Schaefer, and Kathryn Walls (Victoria University Press: Wellington). This work considers a variety of New Zealand YA texts from a thematic point of view and references to this work and others of Mahy’s are scattered throughout.
  • There is stuff you can buy online (eg. Bookrags, enotes) but I’ve no idea how good these resources are… and I wouldn’t buy them to tell you, sorry!
  • Collins put out a set of teaching notes for Margaret Mahy
  • there’s quite a bit of academic criticism that’s been done on Margaret Mahy’s oeuvre (much of which would inform a reading of The Catalogue of the Universe) – but I need to suss it out more (26 April 2011).
  • There are also a number of interviews and reviews around the place.

Author information:

Refer earlier blog: Introducing Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy

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