Monday, 14 February 2011

11/111 - The Beaufort Diaries by T Cooper, illustrated by Alex Petrowsky

This book is a Melville House title that I picked up while I was in New York interning for them. I haven’t had it for very long, and I’m not sure why I picked it to read next. It’s just such a nice little book. It’s a lovely glossy hardback, which reminds me a little bit of the Ladybird series of books I used to read over and over again as a child. The story itself lends itself to this kind of interpretation too, I think, as it’s very simple and sweetly told. The ones I used to read were the ones adapted from the Disney films like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid, and The Beaufort Diaries is also like a fairytale in many respects.

Beaufort, a polar bear, becomes separated from his mother on the ice and decides to take his chances heading south towards Hollywood, where he has dreams of making it as a big star. When he gets there, he finds that reality is harder than he anticipated, however with a stroke of luck lands a role in a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The rest of Beaufort’s journey comprises of classic coming of age stuff – coming to Hollywood, making it big, falling hard and then: redemption. These events are also layered with really subtle explorations of climate change – (Beaufort is forced to drift away form his homeland, and ends up starring in a film called ‘Separation of Oil and State’.)

It’s a very funny and sweet book. Beaufort’s rites of passage such as his first drugs binge, or becoming ‘cuntstruck’ by a supermodel, are told with earnestness, and the fact that he is a polar bear is inconsequential. Also funny is the use of ‘real’ people like Leonardo DiCaprio. Maybe it’s something I haven’t noticed, but T Cooper seems to be part of a canon of authors including Tao Lin (and others, I’m sure), who use ‘real’ people in their novels. Usually they are celebrities, and the authors make no claims that their characters are behaving in the same way the ‘real’ person would behave. The use of celebrity names is interesting: it’s not a sales tactic, but I’m not sure it adds anything to the story other than to ground it into its Hollywood framework. In the instance of The Beaufort Diaries, I like it; the contrast between the names of real people, versus the absurdity of a polar bear being the main character feels kind of appropriate, not to mention hilarious.

As I said, the book itself is a lovely little thing. It’s peppered with full-page illustrations from Alex Petrowsky whose work I’m not familiar with, but his illustrations are a really cool layering of mixed media (usually photographs) with his own illustrations over the top, which works really well with the feel of the novel itself. In the end, I think I ended up feeling a similar way about Fup and All My Friends Are Superheroes. A sweet, short and pretty little book that makes a great gift for any occasion.

Next, I'm going to be reading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby before I tackle Tree of Codes. I think for that one, I'd also like to read the novel it's 'carved' from, which is Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz.

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