Wn ad­ven­ture is vely off the map

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

in­stance, Blayney also ranks ex­pe­ri­ences on a scale of one to 10 ac­cord­ing to their smell. This has no in­stru­men­tal­ity in terms of the plot, but is an in­trigu­ing point of char­ac­ter con­struc­tion, the youth as a sen­sory tax­onomist of his sur­round­ings.

Some­times, how­ever, there is too much de­tail sim­ply re­counted. One ex­am­ple is the fre­quent ref­er­ence to Blayney’s club of boys, the Com­man­dos. We hear about them of­ten but never re­ally get to see them in ac­tion. It’s an ex­am­ple of where the writ­ing maxim ‘‘ show don’t tell’’ might have been bet­ter heeded.

The main is­sue, how­ever, with The Car­tog­ra­pher is its voice. Un­like Huck Finn, whose voice pulls the novel to­gether, Young Blayney’s first per­son nar­ra­tion is in­con­sis­tent. Too much adult sen­si­bil­ity bleeds into the 11-year-old’s ac­count and dis­rupts its im­me­di­acy. Take this sen­tence from page 150, for in­stance: ‘‘ A pale citrine stream of urine flowed del­i­cately down one of its legs, like a twisted me­tal Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tion.’’ It’s an el­e­gant sen­tence, but not the kind of lan­guage a quasi-delin­quent 11-year-old boy for whom street smarts are far more im­por­tant than school smarts is likely to use.

This sen­tence on p351 is more like it: ‘‘ Shit, he was good, that Mr S. And I know when I’m licked.’’ Per­haps a ret­ro­spec­tive frame might have given the more adult voice and its sen­si­bil­i­ties a proper place in this story. As it stands, they pre­vent sus­tained ab­sorp­tion in what is oth­er­wise a fresh and rol­lick­ing take on the Boys’ Own Ad­ven­ture.

Fi­nally, although it might be con­strued as cheating, some kind of a graphic of Young Blayney’s map might add to the reader’s en­joy­ment of The Car­tog­ra­pher. A cover im­age per­haps? Ed Wright is a New­cas­tle-based au­thor, poet, mu­si­cian and lit­er­ary critic.

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