The Scandalous Life of the Lawless Sisters by Philip Ardagh
|The Scandalous Life of the Lawless Sisters by Philip Ardagh|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A strong and witty whimsy, with a tribe of cruel and wicked women turning to crime – and an author of no small skill finding a story hidden in ancient cartoons thrown out of context.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 144||Date: November 2008|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
Way back when, one university application I made wanted me to take a handful of disparate pictures they provided and form a storyboard from them. To be blunt, I went elsewhere, but then I don't have the innate talents of Philip Ardagh. For the third time of asking he has taken a collection of old images, from the sensible to the downright oddball, and formed a lovely, tidy little gift book out of them.
Here, then, is a spread of cartoons from the 1880 output of Punch magazine, in their original appearance, but with Ardagh's captions, forming a strong, stirring tale of a heinous band of criminal sisters. There's a lot more to it than that as well – drugs, the latest technology, death on a frozen lake, laptops, triumphant loins…
It might at first sound like a caption competition writ large, but it does form a remarkably sane story, with returning characters, a beginning, middle and end, and on the whole a lot more than we might initially expect. And several times it's hilarious. It might also appear to be a bit cruel to the original artists, but with some of these images it's very hard to see what on earth the original cartoon might have been on about – or perhaps what the cartoonist might have been on.
The sense of humour might then come from the original oddity itself, or the image taken out of context, or the caption Ardagh provides. At all times it makes sense – you can see his writing superseding any original intent, and forming a melodrama out of fragments. It's all very nicely judged.
Yes, there's not a lot to read for all the effort he has done in poring over countless images and finding a narrative flow, but I liked this book, almost as much as I did his first such volume. Even with his others on the shelf it feels a fresh and original way to come up with a distinctive book.
We are finding a lot of amusing picture books coming our way recently, and this is one of them. File this with those, or next to Graham Rawle.
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