Customer Review

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fails in so many ways, 8 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet (Hardcover)
The Selected Works Of TS Spivet - A Novel fails in so many ways. Yet there is still just about enough to it to justify the effort of reading it.

The book has three distinct sections - each so different they could have come from separate novels. In the first section, TS Spivet introduces himself as a gifted 12 year old mapmaker, living in Montana with a cowboy father and a frustrated scientist for a mother. He has a regular teenage sister, and a brother, Layton, who died in a shooting accident. The action in this section - the only action - is a telephone call from the Smithsonian Institute offering TS a prize fellowship for his scientific drawings in the mistaken belief that TS is an adult academic.

The section grinds so slowly. There's scant plot anyway, but the book's main quirk is the stream of marginalia which offers digressions within digressions. Although some of these are illustrated, even occasionally amusing, most are just sections of text that could just as well have been included in the main body of the text. A quirk for a quirk's sake. And a further problem the author faces is that having created a prizewinning graphic artist, the illustrations fail to deliver. They are mostly line sketches with random dotted lines, circles and angles that show precisely nothing. But they create a spurious impression of science, perhaps.

And then there's the narrative voice. For a 12 year old, TS is both remarkably prescient and remarkably gauche. Most of the time he speaks like an adult; thinks like an adult; draws like an adult. He is a prodigy, although not a very credible one. But then, on the next page, TS will be talking to a motorhome or playing with a toy from a McDonalds Happy Meal. This is not like any 12 year old I have ever met.

The middle section turns into a road story. TS stows away on trains to head for Washington DC to collect his fellowship - having told nobody about it for no apparent reason. He gets into scrapes and spills aplenty whilst reading a tedious family history apparently written by his mother. The high point of this family history is that it is typed in a slightly bigger font and, for the most part, the marginalia stops.

Then, the nadir. The third section sees TS arrive in Washington DC and take up his fellowship. The action starts to come thick and fast. We see life threatening injuries; life saving operations; fantasy; conspiracy theories; secret tunnels and all. There are continuity errors aplenty. Any semblance of credibility that might have been built up in previous sections is simply dispelled. Oh, and the marginalia takes off again with a vengeance.

So what's going on? Perhaps the clue is in the title of the German translation of the book: Die Karte Meiner Traeume - The Maps Of My Dreams.

So, we have a dull, bitty story that crumbles the further it goes. The marginalia is ultimately pretty dull and the arrows telling you what to read and when make it a thin disguise of a continuous text. The characterization is poor. But there's still something that keeps the reader going to the bitter end. A toss up between two and three stars - perhaps the overall feel of the book nudges it up to three.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Nov 2010 14:36:51 GMT
Quicksilver says:
Another great review Mr H and one I more or less totally agree with. You've solved the problem or whether I should write a review or not. (I didn't make it to the end of the book, and hate reviewing when that a happens). I was so looking forward to reading this, but though the diagrams are great, the story is non-existent. I gave up during the family story in part two - this story within the story was even more boring than the story! The only thing I'm not quite sure about is how you managed to give it three stars...?

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Mar 2011 02:23:10 GMT
Looking back I wonder the same - should have been two stars.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jun 2012 12:54:55 BDT
Gs-trentham says:
I share most of your views, and, like you, I gave up during the mother's story in part two. I just could not engage with the people.

However, I was prepared to take TS on trust during the first section; unlike any other 12-year-old, of course, but that was part of the charm. If the language was adult, it allowed the quirky humour. But overall, not up the hype.
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Location: Melbourne

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