I was only a few pages into this when the style seemed familiar and I looked back to see that I had previously reviewed the author’s book, The Jolly Coroner. That had been a crazy book with a strange but enticing story and wrapped up in an unusual form. Bunyan’s Guide to the Great American Wildlife promised more of the same and was evident right off the bat. But ultimately it failed to get past the unusual format to deliver the story.
I’ve been trying to figure out how best to sum up the story, and I think I have to go to Goodreads and share the description from there:
What happens when the Manhattan zoo empties its cages?
John, part radicalised anarchist, part ticking time bomb, is haunted by a particular story, that of Willow, a 9-year old mute who flees to New York after her brutal rape. The only way his girlfriend, Felicity, can stop the clock counting down is by disentangling the riddle of their pasts, before their entwined futures are blown to pieces.
Quentin Canterel’s second novel presents a collage of voices, dead and alive, in a unique and unnerving novel that experiments with form, structure and language.
Had I read the description first I’m pretty sure I’d never have requested the book. Any book that mentions in the description that it “experiments with form, structure and language” is not likely something that will appeal to me (though I always hope I’m wrong on that).
I think that there is a story here but you have to work really hard to pull that story out from behind the form and structure and language to realize it, and I’m not really convinced it’s worth it. I don’t mind the work if there’s a pay-off, but the pay-off here is too obscured.
This is just a technical thing and only a small part of my low rating, but the use of a variety of font styles to indicate different people writing hindered the process. Some handwriting-looking fonts were too small and I had to supersize the type to be able to read it, and then go back to return the font to my preferred ‘normal’ size for other parts of the book, and all of the handwriting-looking fonts were difficult to read which simply aggravated an already tough read.
I don’t usually read other reviews until after I’ve written mine, but since I was quoting from the Goodreads description and noticed that there were only seven other reviews as I write this, I gave them a quick glance and I’m amused that one of the people who rated this book well (4 stars) stars the review with “From what I can make of it…”.
Experiments are fine, but this experiment failed.
Looking for a good book? Bunyan’s Guide to the Great American Wildlife by Quentin Canterel keeps the reader away from the story with the style of presentation.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Bunyan’s Guide to the Great American Wildlife
author: Quentin Canterel
publisher: Acorn Independent Press
paperback, 262 pages