karen misjudged a book by its cover again.
i have loved quentin blake’s drawings ever since i was a little girl tearing through every roald dahl book i could find. they are the perfect visual complement to dahl’s whimsical and somewhat unsettling stories. which is precisely how i articulated my appreciation for it at age 7.
as for will self, i’ve read four books by him, and i was excited to see what kind of partnership these two fellows would make in what i thought would be a spooooky little novella for my october spookathon reading month.
but this isn’t meant to be spooky, nor is it, strictly speaking, collaborative. here’s the situation: in 2017, quentin blake had an exhibition of watercolors called “The Only Way to Travel,” featuring people riding unusual vehicles through scratchy quentin blake-y landscapes. then, the following year, he narrowed the theme and expanded the series—taking all of the nighttime scenes, with their candy-colored moons and grey-and-black-everything-elses, creating additional pieces to form a collection called “Moonlight Travellers.”
and then will self wrote some words inspired by them. and this is the book.
a decision was made by whomever designed this book that the chocolate and the peanut butter would be kept apart, so the first 39 pages are will self’s words, followed by many color pages of blake’s art. so, instead of looking at the art first, establishing a mood and a tone that lingers as you discover where will self’s mind went after ruminating on those same images, or—even better—integrating the words and images throughout the book in some sort of symbiotic creative dialogue, the formatting delivers a very uneven experience where you read a bunch of words without the context of the art that inspired them and then you look at a bunch of pictures, and then it’s all over and you go to the kitchen and make some toast.
the art is great—it’s everything i associate with blake, and because of my feelings about birds, i found it very spooky and foreboding.
will self went another way. the writing is fine, if you appreciate a wafty poetical tone full of alliteration:
Over this scintillating bush they throw a sheet—such that the great globe seems to have been drawn down into a cloudy chamber, over the eerily glowing billows of which worm the bamboozled muons and positrons, their antennae twitching, their tattered wings fluttering.
he definitely establishes an atmosphere with his hypnotic and dreamlike prose, and it’s all very lambent and descriptive, but reading it first, without having blake’s images nestled in my mind, it was a bit distancing. there are recurring motifs of the moon and flight and journeys, and there are some very striking images, but it’s predominantly the kind of porous abstract sense-writing that makes me have to stop and reread sentences before i can get my bearings. and it is not spooky at all, which kite he shot down decisively.
The moon drives everyone mad—you know that, well enough. But this is no lycanthropic or otherwise spooky metamorphosis: it’s far stranger than that. You rise from your bed and, leaving your nightclothes lying coiled and cooling on the floor, you flee out the back door into the garden. The moonlight has electroplated the frivolous flowers, and so they range along their narrow beds, sentinel and sinisterly beautiful. You stand, confused by such clarity: is this nighttime at all, or a scene being shot in full daylight, in such a way that all concerned—actors, directors, producers, designers and audience—can readily suspend disbelief?
so. all love for the art, especially this cutie-monster:
but the writing isn’t my kind of thing, and it’s already sliding out of my mind. lucky for you, you are not me, so you will probably enjoy it so much more!