Edward Carey’s Little was one of those books I tucked away at the back of my shelves when it arrived. The story of Madame Tussaud, accompanied by a good deal of brouhaha and not published for months, it didn’t immediately appeal. Then Twitter fever started to take off so I decided to give it a try and it ended up on both my books of the year list and Booker Prize wish list. No such shilly-shallying with The Swallowed Man which went straight to the front of the TBR queue on arrival.
Setting out to find his lost son, Giuseppe Lorenzini is swallowed by a fish so gigantic it has a schooner already in its maw. Finding candles sufficient to last many days together with writing and painting materials on board and a box of matches in his trouser pocket, he decides to record his story and that of his son who was no ordinary boy. A carpenter proud of his skills, Geppetto carved himself a son from wood whose first act was to pull his father’s wig off. Horrified by what he’d produced, Geppetto confined the wooden boy he’d dubbed Pinocchio to the house until, unable to bear its pleas to do what little boys do, he set his creation free which is the last he saw of him. It’s the search for Pinocchio that’s landed Geppetto in his peculiar position, deep in the gut of the sea monster where one day is much the same as another with only his life and thwarted loves to contemplate, his son to fret about and madness to fend off as the candle supply wanes.
I am writing this account, in another man’s book, by candlelight, inside the belly of a fish
Carey’s reimagining of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio from Gepetto’s perspective is characteristically idiosyncratic, complete with hallucinatory lovers. He weaves his fantastical, poignant tale around line drawings and photographs, some of images of what appear to be found objects. Like all fairy tales, it has a message about parenthood, loss and the need for connection, rounded off with that classic trope – redemption. Carey finishes his tale with an Afterword in which another lonely father expresses his compassion for the remains of a man found in the carcass of a monstrous sea creature, washed ashore in Maine, whose memory he chooses to honour by putting his handiwork and story on display. I wasn’t at all sure what to expect when I began reading his novella but I think it’s likely that with Carey that’s part of the enjoyment.
Gallic Books: London 9781910477700 144 pages Hardback