cover image The Swallowed Man

The Swallowed Man

Edward Carey. Riverhead, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-0-593-18887-3

British writer and illustrator Carey (Little) brings his grotesque whimsy to this lackluster retelling of a harrowing episode from Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio. The story begins with Giuseppe Lorenzini having been swallowed by a giant sharklike creature. Giuseppe, who had been sailing the seas looking for his runaway wooden son, Pinocchio, takes up residence in the monster’s abdomen, finding refuge in a Danish ship the fish has also ingested. Thus sheltered and supplied (with food, drink, candles, and ink), he composes his autobiography, attempts some new carving projects, and, as time passes, succumbs to hallucinatory fits of madness. The humble craftsman is an orotund narrator, holding forth from the belly of the beast in high rhetorical style: “I am a monarch of space. Emperor of Inner Sharkland.” Some of Collodi’s famous scenes (burning feet, growing nose) are briefly replayed, but the narrative is mostly devoted to Giuseppe’s backstory, including tepid accounts of the women he loved, and to his Crusoe-like survival strategy. In the most interesting sections, Carey dives into Giuseppe’s strained relationship with his own father that presages his tempestuous relationship with the impish Pinocchio, but these moments are few and far between. The book feels both slight and overstuffed, a prolonged exercise in style that brings little insight into Collodi’s classic. (Oct.)