Friday, December 30

Friday Review: The Selected Works Of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

Basically what happens is that a twelve-year-old genius, T.S. Spivet, is obsessed with mapping the achingly ordinary world around him, until it stops being quite so ordinary – he wins a major scientific prize and has to decide whether to stay on the dry Montana ranch he calls home, or somehow travel two thousand miles across the country to claim his place among the scientists he so reveres. 

Guys, it was so good. If you missed my hints on the blog and twitter, here's how freakin' good it was:

TWO THUMBS UP KINDA GOOD! [Doing two thumbs up while holding heavy book: unsuccessful.]

You know what I loved? The experimentation with sidenotes and illustrations. I literally got this book because I saw it and went “Ooh! Pictures!” and I definitely wasn't disappointed. The little maps, sketches and graphs all add to the story and appeal to my incredibly short attention span. 

Almost every page has a little sketch leading from the text with a delightful dotty arrow.

Reading a sidenote, even at the very end, feels like you're unlocking a secret layer in the narrative. It creates an intimacy with the reader that isn't easy to come by in contemporary lit.

You know what could've been better? The language didn't strive to be childish at all, but there were glaring times when the voice was all “hello, I am an adult self-consciously writing from a child's point of view.” Luckily those moments were few and far between.

Another thing that irked me is the micro-story in the middle, which had its thematic appeal, but dragged on a bit too long. It was compelling at first, but I got through the whole thing only by devouring the side notes. There's also an annoying deus ex machina that pops up towards the end to iron over some dodgy plot points. But hey, this stuff is forgivable.

This isn't an action-packed story, but it's certainly a compelling one. Though T.S. is a little genius, he's far from cold, and there is a pervasive curiosity and clarity of vision that sticks with you after you've put the book down. What's most fascinating is the way he charts and maps his family – from the traumatic accident that killed his brother (this broke my heart a little bit, because it was never fully fleshed out, but constantly hinted at in the narrative) to the series of muscle contractions that make up his father's expressions. Larsen's also a kickass illustrator when he's not doing the whole measuring-and-charting thing, too.

One of my favourite pages, a swarm of sparrows.

Much of the book is set on a very long train ride, and it was described so well that I felt a little fatigued and motion sick whenever it was mentioned. I don't generally recommend books that make me sick, but there you go.

Too charming for words.

I loved it, not only for the rich, endearing story, but because it's so visually interesting I couldn't wait to turn each page. I could argue that the tangential structure hints at the way a genius' brain works, but to be honest it felt very natural and not at all contrived to prove some abstract literary point. It's a brief and intoxicating return to picture books mixed with the secret thrill of reading someone's journal and turning the page sideways to check what vital insight is squished along the margin. 

I wonder if Larsen designs tattoos? *pines*

I recently got a Kindle (yay!) but The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is exactly why I'll never stop buying print books. I may be downloading classics I'm not sure about, and new stuff that'd take ages to ship to S.A., but something as beautifully crafted as this book could never really live on a screen. It's meant to be held, the weight of it showing how much talent and hard work went into it.

Also, I cried at the end. SO YOU KNOW IT'S GOOD.

I give it a 4/5, or 8.2/10, or :) / 9000. Do pick it up if you get the chance!

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