9780811827522 / 0811827526

The Artful Dodger: Images and Reflections


Publisher:Chronicle Books



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About the book:

As 3 million readers can attest, Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine trilogy is the world's most original epistolary novel. It contains (physically contains) the correspondence of Londoner Griffin Moss and Sabine Strohem of the Sicmon Islands in the South Pacific--colorful postcards and letters in envelopes pasted into the book, which the reader must open and read. In his gloriously illustrated autobiography The Artful Dodger, Bantock explains the allure of opening letters: it's "a sort of cross between Christmas and sex." And when the letters illuminate somebody else's mysterious love affair, it's all the more delicious.

Griffin and Sabine really are mysterious, and it's tricky to piece together their story from the fanciful, surrealistic bits the text, maps, stamps, and pictures provide. That's why fans will be ravenous to read Bantock's charmingly straightforward memoir, which lets us in on all kinds of secrets about his symbols and visual sources. Winged figures always signify transition, he says, "whether on a monkey, an angel, or a devil." Sabine's Sicmon Islands home derives from the English expression "sick as a parrot," which connects with the parrot on the first book's cover and expresses Griffin's ailing English soul--what he needs is a sensual, elusive Sabine to get his blood up. Both characters are warring parts of Bantock's own psyche.

You don't need to know a thing about them to revel in this book. It's spellbinding in its own right, partly for the artless narrative, but mostly for the hundreds of pictures and the fascinating intricacy of Bantock's creative process. Sabine done in ghostly charcoal and gold dust is exquisite, no matter who she might be. It's a bit spooky to learn that a 1970s French stamp Bantock bought from his local shop to go with one of Sabine's postcards turns out to have been classified as "Type Sabine" by the French Philatelic Society. It was taken from a David painting of the Sabine women, and was meant to symbolize "union"--the central theme of Bantock's trilogy.

There is plenty besides his greatest hit to delight the eye here. The book cover illustrations are arresting, particularly for Peter Ackroyd's bio Chatterton (though his depiction of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land is drably silly). His pop-up books of Jabberwocky and The Egyptian Jukebox (a series of drawers full of museum-like objects that tell the tale of a mad millionaire's travels) are brilliant. Bantock's gift for collage does honor to his idol, Joseph Cornell, without being derivative. His wildly improbable life story proves that fate shares his enthusiasm for flights of fancy. --Tim Appelo

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