Edward Carey: The Swallowed Man

Lynda Green

The Swallowed Man is a short novel, easily read in a sitting, and if you are happy to suspend reality and appreciate beautiful writing, then you’ll enjoy it. Sprinkled with charming illustrations by the author, it is the reminiscences of Geppetto, the creator/father of Pinnochio, while he is in the belly of a gigantic fish. Edward Carey mixes words which shouldn’t work together, yet they do, conjuring Geppetto’s moods, emotions, fears and hopes. I was so enchanted with the way he writes, I found myself staring into the middle distance, savouring the beauty of it.
An artist and carpenter, Geppetto does not let his isolation thwart his creativity; he also insists on taking pride in his appearance, despite his circumstances. It is interesting to reflect on this, in these trying pandemic times. My creativity seems to have taken a dip, to my shame.
After describing his surroundings, Geppetto goes on to explain how he made the wooden puppet which, to his amazement, starts to come to life even as he is carving him. We are treated to a drawing of the component parts of the puppet, and to a wonderfully funny yet poignant sketch of a sparse wig he has made for himself out of seaweed, his own mirth-producing wig having been lost at sea. How gloriously vain he appears, even when almost alone. He sculpts a bust of himself; the smile he tries to give it will not stay on, but keeps slipping down. We have all known that feeling at times, over the last year.
For a while Geppetto has an unlikely companion in a tiny crab, which he is pleased to have reside in his beard. He is less pleased by an ethereal, sinister presence which he senses and fears is up to no good. Here we have a drawing, a dark little figure, howling or screaming; perhaps it represents Geppetto’s fears for Pinnochio and himself – he had admitted right at the start that he is afraid of the dark, and counts his days by the number of candles he has left.
The novel is charming and odd, part fairy story, part parable, it certainly made me ponder on decisions I have made, paths I have taken.
Edward Carey admits to a fascination with the book Pinocchio. I, as many others I’m sure, was introduced to it via the Disney Film, yet that film is a pale rendition of the original story, as I found when I first read it as a child. The Italian film Pinnochio, directed by Matteo Garrone, which I reviewed in a former issue, is the truest version, and should The Swallowed Man be made into a film, it will be a wonderful sequel.
Just as in the film Titanic, we all know the ending, it’s the journey that is so wonderful. So, I would encourage you to read it. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.

Volume 35 no 4 March/April 2021

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