The Unwritten - Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice

By Mike Carey, Peter Gross, Kurt Huggins, Zelda Devon

Reviewed Aug 22, 2017 on The Litt Review.

I picked up this graphic novel as part of Drawn and Quarterly’s monthly Graphic Novel bookclub. Drawn and Quarterly is a bookshop here in Montréal, in Mile End, which specializes in graphic novels. It has the best selection of any shop I have seen. I’m still waiting for the right reason to buy Blankets, my favorite graphic novel, and every time I go there I am sorely tempted. I don’t know what’s held me back so far.

I hadn’t attended the bookclub yet, but, hoping for the best, I forked over a bit and bought this one without looking at a review. I am not entirely glad I did. I enjoy reading graphic novels, but they’re not exactly novel to me. I’ve read V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Identity Crisis, all of Sandman. When I was a teenager, I read manga after manga, soaking them up. So I wasn’t buying this book for the novelty - I was hoping it would genuinely be good.

Had I done a bit more research, I would have learned that this is a prequel novel, which is meant to shore up some of the backstory for an ongoing series called The Unwritten. The book is split into two parts, which are intertwined. The first is about a man impossible to sympathize with, who decides to raise his son and write a novel about his life, at the expense of his wife, the son’s privacy, and his own conscience; the second follows a non-magical orphan raised as a kitchen-helper in a magic school, who gradually learns what happened to his parents and why he isn’t magical himself. There’s vampires and speeches, fights and Dumbledores, even a ginger sidekick and a daemon of sorts.

Frankly: it read as forced, the plots didn’t resolve, I’m not sure that the book is better for the real-life father-son story, and it’s completely confusing why they’re mixed together in the first place. I see it touted as ‘stand alone’ on the net - but I think this is from the perspective of people who have already read The Unwritten, or who at least know it exists. I hadn’t, and didn’t, and it wasn’t until after I forced myself through the book and googled what the hell it was talking about that I figured out I hadn’t accidentally stumbled on a long, absurdist art piece.

I haven’t started The Unwritten yet. If I had, I might be able to tell you this makes sense after. I may in the future. For now - don’t read this book if you haven’t read the rest.

So, that aside, was there anything OK in it? Sure. Some of the art was pretty cool. The styles changed clearly later in the book, which I found unnerving and unnecessary (I felt it was something like a plot device, shadowing unreality, which was interesting but only added to my confusion about what the book was doing). There’s at least one good scene, involving the reason the series is called ‘the unwritten’, too.

Overall, though, I’m disappointed. When the bookclub date came, I went to a launch party for Uneven Earth, and found myself watching the documentary Accidental Anarchist instead. I don’t regret that, at all.

(But I bought the next book in the bookclub anyway).

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