As novels go, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is a bit of a doorstopper. Visually, with its many pages full of side bar scribblings, it looks like it could be contending for a place in between Harry Potter and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. The book is probably as close as you can come to being the literary equivalent of method acting.
Larsen writes the narrative as a 12-year-old boy, who is strangely obsessed with a scientific observation of the world around him, drawn to map whatever he sees – bison migration, human spit, farming development, insects… Whatever he sees he maps.
Whether Larsen has correctly captured the voice of a child is debatable, but his main character is a bit of a prodigy in this book. Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet draws so well that he wins a competition run by the Smithsonian – which thinks he is an adult. His teacher had entered him for the competition without his knowledge, and he is invited to travel to Washington to make an acceptance speech.
He runs away from home without telling his parents, and much of the book follows his journey, as he documents what he sees along the way.
He quite smartly jumps on to a train by colouring in a light signal to make it appear red so the train will stop. Some of the commentary about the world around T.S Spivet could be the opinion of the author coming through – he takes the opportunity of using a child’s view of the world to point out various faults with people, politics, cities.
As a story, it’s a bit of a heavy read. Random, as my kids would say. Unlike most novels, this one seems to be a jumble of many ideas and twists and turns that are less plot twists and more random thought drift. Since the book is supposed to be a journey through the wandering mind of a child, that is part of its charm I suppose.
I passed my review copy to a 12-year-old boy who loves books and he got immersed in it straight away. It seemed to have immediate appeal.