I’m pretty sure there’s a line somewhere in Melville where he suddenly announces he’s not that keen on penguins. In my head I really think it’s Melville – maybe Moby-Dick or The Encantadas. The line, as I half-remember it, suggests there is something uniquely unlovable about penguins, something slightly uncanny and nasty.
The line is always accompanied by a footnote admitting that, yes, Melville was clearly wrong about this one. We love penguins. Take a poll. Penguins are universally lauded. The thing they do with the rock. The eyebrows on some of them. The strong chocolate bar synergy for UK fans. We don’t even feel tricked when their awkwardness on land gives way to muscular elegance in the water. The awkwardness flashing into elegance at the moment of impact actually seems to suggest contiguous virtues.
There are no penguins in Nuts – or if there are, I missed them. But I thought about Melville’s take on penguins because Nuts is all about squirrels – and squirrels, I suddenly started to realise, are not universally lauded. It seems at times that we can’t decide about them. They are cute and sprightly and move in a lovely fountain-pen ripple, sure, but up close there are those surprising sharp teeth, and so many of them! There are those glossy, inscrutable eyes. And then someone will say, “Oh, you know the grey squirrels killed all the red ones,” and then, maybe a little involuntary shudder?