The Swallowed Man By Edward Carey – A Review

Publisher: Gallic Belgravia

Publication Date: 5th November 2020

Edward Carey’s Little was one of my favourite books of 2018. The story of Madame Tussauds was such an absolute treat with its swarthy characters and it’s amazing illustrations. You should check out my review here.

I’d had The Swallowed Man on my radar for such a long time and had been desperate to get my hands on it. Luckily the lovely folk at Gallic Belgravia sent me a copy and here we are!

‘I am writing this account, in another man’s book, by candlelight, inside the belly of a fish. I have been eaten. I have been eaten, yet I am living still…..’

Surely everyone knows the story of Geppetto and the boy he carved out of wood who came to life and became his son. Everyone knows Pinocchio! The Swallowed Man tells the story of how Geppetto ended up in the belly of a whale on a mission to find his only son.

Set completely inside the whale, Geppetto writes a diary in the one notebook he has found onboard a ship the whale has swallowed. Keeping himself alive inside the beast using the various items he finds onboard the ship, including boxes of candles.

Through the words in the diary we learn of how Pinocchio came into existence and how he and Geppetto forged a tentative ‘father/son’ relationship before he goes missing. If you’re thinking this tale is akin to the cutesy Disney story you couldn’t be more wrong! In fact there’s quite a sinister and dark edge to how Pinocchio comes to life and how Geppetto is frightened by what he has created, even calling Pinocchio ‘the thing’ and at times wishing he hadn’t brought him into existence.

‘I flinched; I shuddered. But it was too late to stop. I was in a passion of creation – I was under command of the wood – and so I carved on. I gave him legs. Feet. And the feet, on divining life kicked with life. Kicked, that is, my shins. This terrible thing! You are an object I cried. Behave like one! And it kicked once more, for it was loathe to follow the rules of objects. Rather, it threw down the book of rules and stamped upon it. Oh god! I said to myself, for I was quite alone in my room. What have I done! The thing moved. I screamed in terror…..

There’s somewhat of a power struggle between the two but they settle into their roles and start to develop a bond. However, this strange father/son bond is broken when Pinocchio runs away and Geppetto in the search for his boy ends up swallowed by the huge sea creature.

During his isolated existence deep in the belly of the whale, Geppetto can only comfort himself with thoughts of his past. We get a whistlestop tour of the handful of women he has loved as he reminisces about each of the important relationships in his life. We also learn about his childhood and family life.

All the while he is trapped inside the whale he is pining for his son. Hoping he gets to see him again but conversely dreading him being swallowed up too. His note taking in the book becomes ever more erratic and we witness what can only be described as a descent into a madness of which he cannot escape. Brought on by loneliness, isolation, loss and grief.

He experiences strange occurrences on the swallowed ship and we as the reader cannot gauge whether they are borne of his delusions as we sink further with him.

There is such a great ending which I won’t spoil but will say I was very relieved that it all tied together so nicely. A wonderful denouement very befitting of this wonderful book.

Edward Carey sure knows how to make familiar characters jump off the page. His writing is fairytale-esque with a dark edge, shot through with a wry humour.

The illustrations and imagery in this book are just brilliant and lend so much more atmosphere to the story. I was always so excited to turn the page and see what treat awaited me next…..such a joy!

If you’re expecting the original Pinocchio story then buckle up and adjust your expectations. You’re in for quite a ride!

Another Edward Carey triumph that I would absolutely recommend treating yourself to.

Thank you so much to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx


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