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.
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
The Interview is finally released after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader