Monday, April 29, 2013

A Sunderland wonderland

The first book recommended by Nancy Pearl in her book Book Lust to Go (see last week's post) that I sought out and read was Bryan Talbot's graphic book Alice in Sunderland (2007). "Reading this was one of the richest experiences of my life," Pearl says. I wouldn't go that far, but it is a stunning book.

Although the Wikipedia entry describes Alice in Sunderland as a graphic novel, it really isn't a novel. Exactly what it is is hard to say, but essentially it is a tribute to Talbot's hometown, Sunderland in the northeast corner of England. Talbot thoroughly mixes history, biography, legend, fantasy, literature and humor into a pleasing, if sometimes confusing, stew.

Talbot explains that both Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, had Sunderland connections. He goes further to suggest that Carroll probably had Sunderland in mind when he came up with the title of his classic book.

There's a lot about Alice in Wonderland, its author and Alice herself in Alice in Sunderland. But Talbot also discusses numerous others with ties to Sunderland, including George Washington, George Orwell, stage performer George Formby, novelist Sheri Holman, the cartoon character Andy Capp and even the Lampton Worm. He claims the electric light bulb was invented in Sunderland by Joseph Swan, not by Thomas Edison. The book has so many diversions it's easy to lose sight of what the main theme actually is, but the diversions, as in a Dame Edna monologue, are where the fun lies.

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