Thursday, July 07, 2011

Wanderlust & A Book of Hours

And now for some reviews...
During last weekend's Readathon I kept these two "wordless novels" for the late hours, knowing they'd be restful on my eyes. And they were! I've read others in this series of woodcut novels put out by Porcupine's Quill Press as well -- these are the latest two that I have received.

Wanderlust / Megan Speers
Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill Press, c2010.
128 p.

I wasn't really engaged by this one. It features a young woman into the punk scene in Sault Ste. Marie, in the mid 1990's. It shows the main character with various friends, skateboarding, dumpster diving, drinking in the woods and so on. Personally I wasn't fascinated by the subject matter.

Still, as a novel told in this format the story was visually strong -- lots of active moments which could be shared within an image. The woodcuts have quite a bit of dark space and the figures are slightly off kilter, reflecting the subject matter quite effectively.

The main difficulty I had with this was that it didn't seem to go anywhere. It was a slice of life, but didn't seem to have a narrative line to grab on to. Also, there was a quirk in the illustrations that I found a bit unusual: the characters, as shown on the cover, often have "voice bubbles" in which they are relating something in pictures. It gave me the sense that the story was being told rather than shown. Strange, I know, considering the entire book is made up of images; however, that is how it struck me.

Nonetheless, I still find this whole series fascinating and so outside my usual reading areas that I enjoy exploring them each time, even if it turns out that I don't absolutely love a title in the end.

A Book of Hours / George A. Walker
Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill Press, c2010.
192 p.

This book is inspired by the medieval tradition of a "Book of Hours", which led the faithful in their allotted daily prayers. It's also visually influenced by the classic tradition of woodcut novels by artists like Frans Masereel (or so the introduction tells me; I am not familiar with this tradition so looked it up for more information -- it is a fascinating history!)

However, it takes as its subject matter the day before September 11. Walker reveals a society in which people follow their everyday routine, showing us small moments of normal life in the irretrievable time before terrorist attacks were considered possible on our own shores. The images are elegant, with a cumulative sense of active life, individuals captured in one moment of a full and personal existence. Rather than the story of one person, it accumulates the weight of narrative due to the reader's foreknowledge of what is to come. Each page adds another life that is going to be forever changed.

This results in a striking book, with an overhanging sense of doom to the images of casual daily life, all those people just going about an ordinary day completely unaware of what was coming. Even in the form of fairly straightforward, uncluttered images, often of a single person who isn't doing much at all -- sometimes gazing at a computer, sometimes lying in bed -- there is a sensation of alarm that grew stronger as I neared the end of the book. I didn't want to see what I knew what about to happen. It was surprisingly affecting, powerful in its simplicity. This is a wonderful volume in this series, and makes me look forward to more in the same vein.


For this year's Canadian Book Challenge I've chosen as my theme "Small-Press-Palooza" Thus, for each book I'm including a link to the small press who has published it. Take a look -- there are wonderful small presses all over Canada!


  1. I don't know if will like the first book, I'm not into the punk stuff, but though tragic the second book seems good.

  2. EclecticReader - I'm not certain if people not into punk will appreciate the first; perhaps some people will, for its artstic elements. The second had a larger subject that I feel more people will be drawn to.

  3. Smart thinking scheduling those books into the readathon. Though I'm familiar with Porcupine Quill Press I haven't heard of this series at all. They both sound fascinating and I love the cover of the 1st one!

  4. Wanda - they are fascinating...don't think I'd have ever picked them up if PQ hadn't brought my attention to them. A great series.


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