- first published in Australia by Harper Collins Publishers 2012
- ISBN 978-0-7322-9316-1
- source: library book
- 386 pages
An eleven-year-old boy witnesses a violent crime. Just one year before, he looked on helplessly as his identical twin died violently. His determination that he himself is the link changes his life.
The Cartographer is a captivating novel about a tragic figure in a dark place. The nameless child who tells the story handles the terrors of his life by adopting the strengths of fictional pop culture characters he admires, drawing on comics, radio and television dramas, and movies, finally recreating himself as a superhero who saves himself by mapping, and who attempts to redeem himself by giving up his persona so that another may live again.
His only mentors are a professional standover man, his shady grandfather, and an incongruous neighbourhood couple who intervene in an oddly coincidental way.
In the dark, dangerous lanes and underground drains of grimy 1959 Melbourne, The Cartographer is a story bristling with outrageous wit and irony about an innocent who refuses to give in, a story peopled with a richness of shifty, dodgy and downright malicious bastards, mixed with a modicum of pseudo-aunts, astonishing super heroes, and a few coincidentally loving characters, some of whom are found in the most unlikely places.
This novel came highly recommended by a friend whose judgement I trust, but perhaps it is just an indication of how widely our tastes diverge, that I can't share her enthusiasm.
I think I lost my way about halfway through the book after our narrator, 11 years old and often unreliable, survived yet another "adventure" in the name of mapping a safer world. I lost sight of what this book was about, what mystery I should be helping to solve. It was probably all there, just not plainly enough for me. There are some delightfully humorous passages, but I sometimes also doubted the authenticity of the narrator's voice. Juvenile narration is difficult to do at the best of times, but I felt our unnamed hero had too much latitude for his age.
I think there were connecting threads between various incidents in the story but the author made me work too hard to cobble them together. Perhaps at times I am a lazy reader...
My rating: 3.5
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