The Unwritten, Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Unwritten strikes me as being somehow 'impressive'. It's hard to clarify what I mean, but the idea of it and the execution was very well done. It delves into the very fruitful literary territory of metafiction, where reality and fiction intersect. I find I truly enjoy metafiction, probably because of being such a lifelong bookworm and having my head stuck in a book for most of that life (since I was four).
In the case of Tommy Taylor, it's a painful intersection. His father is a famous novelist of children's books (in the vein of Harry Potter) who suddenly disappeared. Tommy is left depending on the uncertain income from coasting on his identity as Tommy Taylor, the eponymous character of the books his father wrote. When a lady shows up at a comic book convention and challenges his identity, the stuff hits the fan, and the adoring fans of the books become hateful, vengeance-seeking stalkers. Tommy's life implodes. But things only get worse, when he develops enemies that hail from the so-called mythical landscape of the books.
One of the things I liked the best about this graphic novel was the illustrations. It is clean and elegant. The lettering is also well done and distinctive. My eyes wanted to stay on the page and observe every detail, whereas with some graphic novels, there is too much to look at (so I pick and choose), and some aspects of the frames seem to fade into the woodwork because they are deemed less important. This book is a great midpoint where neither clarity or detail is compromised.
I also liked the prose and the storytelling. I felt sorry for Tommy. He really got a rough deal being who he was, and in effect powerless to change his life. I hope that he does gain some agency and authority in his life situation.
I do have to say I didn't care much for some aspects of one of the sections. The idea of tackling horror conventions since they were at the house at Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where Mary Shelley (and apparently John Milton earlier) wrote the famous masterpiece they are known for, was a good one. I just didn't care for the gory turn of the story. I think it pricks a sore spot I have about the horror genre in general--the sacrifice of story and genuine narrative content for splatter and gore. I understood the purpose of this, but it just seemed gratuitous (although I admit it was still tastefully done).
The last section was rather odd initially. I didn't get why Rudyard Kipling was the narrator, until well into the story, and then the lightbulb came on. It ties in very well with this developing and expansive story and endows it with increased sense of threat and risk.
I still have a lot of questions, and I want to keep reading this series because it has my interest and attention. I hope that Tommy will come to understand his troublesome situation and discover the hero within.
I'd recommend this novel to lovers of books and literature in its various forms.
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