I felt lost in another world when I read this book, a bit like I felt when I was young and read The Magic Faraway Tree; that gloriously delicious feeling of escaping life here and being someone, or with someone, for a while. This is Rief Larson’s first novel (I hate him) and Vanity Fair speculated in an article that he was given an advance by Penguin (I think) of $1 million, after a bidding war (I hate him even more now).
TS Spivet is 12 year old and lives in Montana. His dad is a cowboy and his mother, Dr Claire, is a frustrated scientist, forever in search of the elusive tiger beetle. TS is a mapmaker. He maps everything, from the size of his bedroom to facial expressions. His cartography is so good that he contributes drawings, maps and articles to magazines across America, and is so well done that an elderly friend of his submits TS’s work to the Smithsonian Institute. When the Smithsonian Institute phones TS to tell him he’s won a prize and has to come to Washington to receive his award, he disguises his voice to sound like an adult and agrees to go. And so TS runs away from home and travels across America to go and receive his prize.
There is much more to the book than those bare bones I have just given you. TS has siblings and there is a family tragedy, and the story line is good, although I found it did drag a bit towards the end and I don’t think the ending was worthy of the rest of the book. Possibly the editing could have been a bit tighter.
But, what made me love this book was the cartography within the book. It has been published in a bigger format than usual, to give it big enough margins to include drawings, maps, graphs, figures and annotations, all supposedly done by Larson. I worry that I am becoming terribly cynical as I get older, but I do wonder how on earth god dolloped so much talent onto one person. I bet you he’s good looking, too.
The drawings wander up and down the pages, crawl around the edges and onto the next, run alongside the text and hide at the bottom of the pages. I would guess that about 2/3 of the pages have some sort of drawings on them and a huge range of subjects is covered by them. I was fascinated and spent ages pouring over them; it was a bit like reading a book within a book. A bit like looking at a book made by little people, like fairies or elves. I know that some people were irritated by all this extra information in the margins, but it delighted me. I might have even bought the book just for its size – there is something very appealing about a book that doesn’t fit well into the bookshelves at Exclusives.
Not everyone I know has been captivated by this book; I know some friends have wondered why on earth I’ve made such a fuss about it. But even if you don’t like the book or don’t want to buy it, take a look at the book’s website. I also found that to be a delicious experience.
I would like to meet TS Spivet. He is a fascinating literary character. Perhaps he will become a classic, along with his cartography and the book about him.