As he recounts the tale, and tells us of his youthful love affairs, he counts the candles. “I am afraid of the dark. The dark is coming for me.” It is a measure of Carey’s skill that we feel Geppetto’s terror, despite the fantastical nature of the tale. Geppetto tries to fill the looming void with art and visions of love. The Swallowed Man can be read as an extended metaphor about the power of art. Or perhaps it’s just a strange and hypnotic story about a man stuck inside a fish.
Carey uses a quaint, folky, first-person idiom that takes some getting used to, but this is a marvellous feat of storytelling that dives deep into the madness accompanying solitude and creativity.
The register in which these ruminations are delivered will not be everyone’s cup of rum. But it can be haunting. Geppetto’s voice, full of wistful overemphases and bewildered revelation, is absorbing as he takes in the oddity of his situation. And the book, sentence by sentence, offers much in which to luxuriate.