Geppetto writes his tragic story from the belly of a huge fish.
Geppetto is a simple woodcarver who lives in the small town of Collodi. He decides to carve a puppet, a wooden boy. Having finished his work, Geppetto is satisfied. The puppet is a handsome one, like a real boy. Then soon enough the wooden boy starts to kick his legs. Not only that, he speaks. Pinocchio is a mischievous boy and Geppetto often has to pull him into line. He tells lies and several times runs away. On his last escape, after much searching, Geppetto learns that some men not liking the look of Pinocchio have thrown him into the sea. Distraught, Geppetto wades out into the ocean, only to be swallowed whole by an enormous fish, maybe a shark or a whale, it can't be decided.
Inside the fish, Geppetto discovers the schooner Maria. It's an old, decaying ship, once led by Captain Tugthus. There are crates of candles, dry biscuits and the captain's journal which Geppetto writes in. The swallowed woodcarver spends his day mourning his son and yet hoping for his return. He writes in his journal day after day, re-imagining the past, his dank environment causing him mad hallucinations, the candles running down one by one until there are no more to light the way.
English novelist Edward Carey's The Swallowed Man is highly original and brilliantly imagined. The classic Pinocchio story is re-worked into a dark, brooding, sometimes mad meditation on art, death and parental love. The book's mood is drenched in grotesque intestinal images, of decaying fish, bone and blood. Somewhat like the nautical descriptions of Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, only much darker. Like Carey's previous book, Little, based on Madame Tussaud's youth, The Swallowed Man concerns itself with our visceral responses to art, how we create dolls and toys to love, believing them to be almost, if not, human.
An intimate story, seen through a ghoulish lens, about love, loneliness and what we hold dear.
The Swallowed Man, by Edward Carey. Published by Gallic Books. $24.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books