Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet - book review

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
by Reif Larsen

Let me start by saying that this is no ordinary book by any yardstick. 

Its Reif Larsen's first novel and such was the publishing interest, it triggered a bidding war with a reputed $1m being paid for the rights to published.

Then there is the central character of T S Spivet, a 12 year old Asperger cartographer. A young man with a very odd view on life and an eye for mapping the improbable - correlations the normal folk among us would never think to map. Somehow he felt an urge to do this to make sense of his surroundings, all beautifully illustrated which caught the eye of the Smithsonian Institute who inadvertently gave him a job! The tale follows his journey from the Midwest to Washington to take up his post.

Its a beautifully written and idiosyncratic tale which veers off in all sorts of mostly irrelevant asides which when taken as a whole build into an amazing tapestry of colour. All this mirrors the eclectic mind of TS Spivet. But there is one snaglet - the prose never achieved authenticity of a genuine 12 year old voice, it was far more adult. But then the book surprises again - the voice may be wrong, but the extensive margins are filled with illustrations and asides which scream out Asperger boy!

The story is split into three: 1. The story of him at home with family 2. his train journey to Washington and revelations about his family history and 3. his time in Washington. The first two are excellent but the last section lapses into the realms of the unbelievable with secret passages, secret societies - I think the author was looking for a way to wrap the story up.

I never found the book dull, but neither did I find it an easy read. In all it must have taken me six weeks to read it and I tended to attack it in small bite sized chunks - and read a few other books round it which is unusual. The trouble is partly its size 8 x 9.5 inches which makes it far to big to fit in my ruck sac for consumption on the train. 

Then there all the bits and bobs in the margins which are necessary to the story. They placed me in a real dilemma - to read them all made inhibited the flow of the tale but to ignore them meant you lost vital elements. I ended up with a compromise and skim read the margins.

So, its an unusual book and well worth a read if only for its unusual approach. Don't expect it to be easy, so you will need to persevere but the reward is there if you try. As for the implausible end? It left me a bit underwhelmed but didn't fatally undermine the overall impact.

Thanks for the loan of the book Bones - you can be relied on to unearth the unusual and thought provoking.

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