About 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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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
About 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)