Book Review: “The Swallowed Man” by Edward Carey

The beginning of this book feels like Frankenstein to me, albeit a monster that’s made of wood and not human flesh. Geppetto is so frightened by his creation at first, and then, unlike Victor Frankenstein, he feels like he comes to care for it, goes and buys it clothes, and sends it off to school. And of course, the creature never comes back and he spends the rest of his life searching for it, calling it “his boy,” until he is swallowed by the fish.

The middle switches more to something that I would call To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to read that book in school – or if you, brave soul, have read it on your own – but it’s a bunch of nothing written in the most beautiful way.

The Swallowed Man is beautiful, but The Swallowed Man is sad. It is the story of a man slowly losing his mind, trapped deep within the belly of the whale (although he calls it a shark, and the “afterword” calls it a “creature of great size”), his only friends the ones he can make out of garbage and hardtack. His friend Olivia the Crab dies in his beard. He makes another wood creature that haunts him on the ship, threatening to tear it apart and thus doom Geppetto to his death.

It’s a book that does nothing and says nothing, just like To the Lighthouse does. It is a book to read to distract you, but I don’t think this is a book I would read again. It’s 165 pages of nothingness, just the ramblings of an old man trapped in a place nothing can ever reach. It is curious to know that a shorter version of this book was originally released alongside an art exhibit in Italy, and that is probably where it belongs: to be looked at, appreciated maybe, but it just doesn’t do much for me.

I feel that rating this book 3/5 stars is what it’s worth. It’s interesting, even if nothing much happens in it. But it is not a book that will break any barriers, even if it tells a story that I have not yet heard before. There’s a quote on the back of the book that says “Edward Carey writes wonderfully weird books about wonderfully weird things,” and I think that’s true of this book. The writing seems a little stilted in places (again, I blame the Italian to English translation for these spots), but the writing itself is excellent. I would be interested in seeing what else Carey has written, just to see if it could make up for what I wanted and didn’t get from this book.

Have you read Pinocchio? Do you think you’d take a glance at this book? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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