Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Reader's Diary #1090- Bryan Talbot: Alice in Sunderland
A couple of years back I wrote about Ann Marie Fleming's The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, saying that while I liked the book as a scrapbook, I found her illustrations (not the few by Julian Lawrence) to be poorly drawn and I questioned why it won a Doug Wright Award in 2008.
Had Talbot been Canadian and won this award, I'd not have questioned it. It takes the scrap book idea and explodes it, with pages that are a comic-collage hybrid. Photos, drawings, it's all in there. And Talbot, at least, can draw.
Alice in Sunderland is about a city in Northeastern England and how it, and the surrounding areas, inspired Lewis Carroll to write his Wonderland novels. There's also a sense of Sunderland momentum that Talbot explores, in a Forrest Gumpian sort of way, with those inspired by Sunderland feeding back into the inspiration machine. Talbot himself seems himself caught up in it all, with Carroll (and to some extent, Carroll's illustrator, John Tenniel) being one of his greatest muses. Talbot also explores the idea of myth and legend, as products and producers of a culture.
It's a huge and noble task and the results are simultaneously breathtaking and flawed. The artwork is very eye-catching and eclectic. It's impossible that I noticed everything. The idea in itself is inspiring (I felt like I needed to start a scrapbook on my home town). But it's also tedious at times and the history lesson just seems to go on and on. At some points it was too easy to forget the book had anything to do Alice or Lewis Carroll. To his credit, Talbot does attempt some creative devices to shake up an often-times boring cataloguing of the important people that ever passed through Sunderland (no matter how briefly). Unfortunately, a narrator that kept switching identities and characters was ultimately confusing. And some of the best moments in creativity were in the last quarter of the book, so at over 300 pages, the pay-off is far too long in coming. Nonetheless, I admire Talbot's audacity to even take on such a project.