The Lizard by Jose Saramago, J Borges, Nick Caistor (translator) and Lucia Caistor (translator)
|The Lizard by Jose Saramago, J Borges, Nick Caistor (translator) and Lucia Caistor (translator)|
|Category: Emerging Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A book almost hampered by its contrary design – but the elusive lesson from these slim pages won't help the young audience's understanding, either.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 24||Date: November 2019|
|Publisher: Seven Stories Press|
One day a giant lizard appears in the city. We don't even get told how it arrived, but it certainly appeared. People took against it, and if they weren't shrugging it off as a hallucination brought on by tiredness just as they fled it, they wanted something done about it. Can something be done about it, though?
This is where I reiterate the obvious, that the author's "Blindness" novel is one of the best things ever printed, and this is where I repeat my common statement that I generally prefer the left-field entries into an author's output as opposed to those titles we're supposed to read first. I have many of the main Saramago hits, but never actually turned to them for fear of the near-inevitable let-down, in the same way I never bought a second Mark Z Danielewski novel, despite and because of "House of Leaves". Still, this author, with his grasp of fable, in a short volume for children? I wouldn't be disappointed with the result, would I?
Well, I hate to report my worry may have been well founded. This is a short, short story presented as a picture book, and is in fact too gnomic for the intended audience – the ending, which of course I dare not approach – too much of a pause for thought than a cause of enjoyment. It's written pleasantly, with the author chatting his way into proceedings ("we've reached the precise moment when the fairies intervene", etc). I'm still not sure they did actually intervene, for it reads as if they and the lizard are conflicting forces, almost, and while they gave everyone in the city and us one conclusion I might have preferred it if the lizard got to have a say.
Anyway, picture books are only half text, and this one is suitably bright and bold in its design. A design, I have to also unfortunately say, I really took against. Importantly, especially in considering the intended readership, it goes counter to what we read, and in quite illogical ways. Page one we learn the lizard is green – well, it's brown on the cover, black on page one, then flirts with maroon and in fact bright red – green is one thing it's not. There is a clear ground level, a pavement, in all images, but people beyond that just hang in blank space. That might be the more excusable aspect of it all, for the colours these woodblocks have been daubed with were so contradictory to what I read I had to work too hard, and in a tale that's presented as all-ages friendly, that clearly is a problem.
In all, I have to assume my interpretation of it is correct, that we can all be the fairies if we don't run from our problems and blame them on us seeing things, and that people power is needed to turn the legendary swords into ploughshares. No, I really have to hope that's the lesson, for if it's not I'm stumped as to the purpose of this short text. I don't fully mind that, but I can see too much truth in the blurb where it tells us this was a disposable piece knocked up for a newspaper, and not a piece to outlive the author. I think this is for the Saramago reader, and not for children. And I really think the design is for a rethink.
I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
Dragons: Father and Son by Alexandre Lacroix and Ronan Badel is also about lizards and going counter to one's culture.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Lizard by Jose Saramago, J Borges, Nick Caistor (translator) and Lucia Caistor (translator) at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Lizard by Jose Saramago, J Borges, Nick Caistor (translator) and Lucia Caistor (translator) at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.