HARVILL SECKER, £17.99 Order for £16.19 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop:0870 079 889
The Selected Works of TS Spivet , By Reif Larsen
The Wild West, freshly sketched
Thursday 09 July 2009
Jonathan Coe recently claimed that experimental fiction seemed off the literary map now, but every year throws up a novel or two that takes risks.
Writers like Steven Hall and Jonathan Safran Foer have experimented with layout and, post-W G Sebald, there has been a rash of authors using illustrations. Now comes Reif Larsen's novel, designed like a colour-coded notebook and containing the secret confessions of a 12-year-old cartographer.
Stephen King has compared it with Thomas Pynchon and Mark Twain, although this doesn't quite capture the novel's unique flavour. It's an over-stuffed and often highly entertaining journey through the American west and beyond from an amusingly precocious narrator. Awarded the Baird Award for illustration by the Smithsonian Institution, Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is invited to fly to Washington to accept a year-long post. Frightened by this invitation into an adult world, he retreats to his maps.
Spivet doesn't just make maps of locations, but also of classic novels such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. As soon as he decides to travel to Washington, it becomes clear that they are essential to his thought processes. We understand why Larsen is accentuating Spivet's nostalgia for the Wild West: this is a cowboy book with a pint-size hero. In this modern Western, Spivet takes many forms of transport, from trains to Winnebagos.
For every meeting with a traditional Western character such as an Indian named Two Clouds, there's a stop at McDonald's or similar intrusion from the contemporary world. A less successful second narrative follows Spivet's great-great-grandmother Emma, whom he describes as one of America's first female geologists.
Larsen will go on to great things, but he could do with more focus. Precocious children have been a staple of American fiction since Salinger's Glass family. As entertaining as Spivet is, spending nearly 400 pages in his company was slightly too much for this reader.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling