#BookReview The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey @BelgraviaB

The Swallowed ManAbout the Book

‘I am writing this account, in another man’s book, by candlelight, inside the belly of a fish. I have been eaten. I have been eaten, yet I am living still.’

Trapped inside a giant sea beast with only the contents of the swallowed schooner Maria to sustain him, Geppetto yearns for the wooden boy he created out of greed but came to cherish as a son. The ship provides materials for the carpenter to make art in memory of Pinocchio and the other loves of his life. But the candles are running out, and the mind can only survive for so long without company.

Drawing upon the classic Pinocchio story while creating something entirely his own, Carey tells an unforgettable tale of fatherly love and loss, of pride and regret, and of the sustaining power of art and imagination.

Format: Paperback (176 pages)   Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 4th April 2022 Genre: Fantasy

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My Review

I was first introduced to Edward Carey’s quirky and inventive writing when I read his historical novel, Little at the end of last year. It quickly found a place on the list of my favourite books of 2021.

The Swallowed Man is the author’s retelling of the story of Pinocchio, the wooden boy created by the carpenter Geppetto who comes to life. In the author’s version, Pinocchio (a rather recalcitrant child it has to be said) is shunned by the local people because he is different. They call him a heathen, unholy, the Devil’s work. Geppetto is told, ‘He was not one of us, you do see that?’

Geppetto’s imprisonment within the belly of the fish gives him time for reflection. He recalls the many disappointments in his life but more than anything he mourns the loss of Pinocchio, berating himself for having viewed him initially as just proof of his own skill or as a means of making money. ‘And I own it: I was expecting not just a boy, but a fortune. I was wishing not just for family but for fame…’ Now that it is too late to rectify his mistakes, he reflects sadly ‘My past and present are not friends’.  I don’t think it’s necessary to believe, as Geppetto does, that Pinocchio was a living boy in order to feel sympathy for his loss. Any parent mourning a lost child I’m sure would identify with Geppetto’s observation, ‘He cannot grow, my boy… Not like all the others. Wherever he is, he stays as he is’.

I was struck by the idea of Geppetto’s confinement inside the great fish being a metaphor for lockdown. For example, he welcomes the objects he receives in the ‘post’ (random items which have been swallowed by the fish) and passes the time on projects such as painting, carving and, of course, writing in his journal, the former logbook of the captain of the Maria.  As time goes by his solitary existence brings on a kind of madness; he starts to have disturbing visions and even comes to believe someone is writing in his journal.  The epilogue provides yet another pandemic parallel as a community is forced to exclude themselves ‘for a time, from the rest of humanity’ in order to prevent the spread of a contagion.

The book’s short sentences give the impression that we are privy to Geppetto’s random thoughts and to phrases he’s trying out in his head, sometimes playfully. For instance, with no way to rid himself of the awful stink of the fish’s insides, he considers rechristening himself ‘Josephus Odorous. Joey ‘The Kipper’ Lorenzini. Putrefaction ‘Petto’. There are other brilliant touches of humor such as when Geppetto recalls purchasing his first wig and explaining euphemistically – much to the wigmaker’s confusion – that ‘The garden atop me has gone barren’, ‘I wilt in the north’ and ‘I have been abandoned, hairly’.  And as always with one of Edward Carey’s books, there are wonderful illustrations and lovely little touches such as smudge marks on some of the pages suggesting ink blots or drops of candle wax.

The Swallowed Man is a delightfully bizarre gem of a book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. (In fact, I’ve yet to read a book published by Gallic Books that I haven’t enjoyed.)

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Isabelle at Gallic Books.

In three words: Touching, witty, inventive

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Edward Carey NewAbout the Author

Edward Carey is a novelist, visual artist and playwright. He is the author of three acclaimed novels, Observatory Mansions, Alva and Irva and Little.

Born in England, he teaches at the University of Texas in Austin. (Photo: Publisher author page)

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#BookReview They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera @simonschusterUK

They Both Die at the EndAbout the Book

On September 5th, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: they’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but for different reason, they’re both looking for a new friend on their End Day. The good news: there’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure – to live a lifetime in a single day.

Format: Paperback (368 pages) Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 7th September 2017 Genre: YA, Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

This book illustrates the joy of a book club because They Both Die at the End is not a book I would have ever chosen for myself but which I absolutely loved. Other members of the book club had trouble with the whole concept of an organisation like Death-Cast but strangely enough, although I usually shy away from any element of fantasy in a book, this didn’t bother me. I think this was because I just let myself get swept along by the story of Rufus and Mateo.

Obviously it’s a bold move by an author to publish a book with a title that is effectively a spoiler but it’s just one of many clever touches that I really enjoyed. The book switches between the perspectives of Mateo and Rufus over the course of their last day, occasionally interrupted by other characters who come within their orbit, even if that’s only that they passed them in the street or served them in a shop.

The two boys each have their own characters. Mateo is socially awkward, risk averse and solitary by nature (and necessity) but has a loving nature witnessed by the letters he leaves for his neighbours and his reluctance to let his friend Lidia bear the burden of knowing he is going to die. Rufus is more assertive and worldly owing to the fact he has had to be independent from an early age.  However they also have things in common like finding themselves without family. (Mateo’s father, although alive, is in a coma.)

Starting the day as strangers, the pair gradually become friends and eventually close companions as they share a series of experiences akin to a bucket list but one produced in the moment rather than prepared in advance. I liked the way the book distinguished between manufactured ‘fake’ experiences designed for those who’ve received the Death-Cast call and more meaningful real experiences. In the course of the day, the pair begin to take on some of the characteristics of the other;  Rufus encouraging Mateo to be more adventurous but in turn absorbing some of Mateo’s natural generosity.

A book where both characters die at the end sounds like it’s going to be sad to read – and it is really sad at some points – but there’s also humour as well such as some of the responses Mateo receives on the Last Friends app.  I especially enjoyed the Travellers Game Mateo and Rufus play while riding the subway.

If I had to sum up the message of the book it would be carpe diem (seize the day) because you never know if it might be your last.  ‘We never act’, Mateo says. ‘Only react once we realise the clock is ticking.’

In three words: Clever, witty, tender

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Adam SilveraAbout the Author

Adam Silvera is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of They Both Die at the End and More Happy Than Not and History Is All You Left Me and Infinity Son and Infinity Reaper and with Becky Albertalli, What If It’s Us and Here’s to Us. His next book The First to Die at the End releases October 4th, 2022, with the final Infinity Cycle book to follow soon after. He was born in New York and now lives in Los Angeles where he writes full-time. He is tall for no reason. (Bio/photo: Goodreads author page)

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