At the outset I have to declare that Lonely Beasts is a book created by my son, Jerry, and therefore readers will have to decide whether anything I say on the topic from this point on can be treated as reliable. Naturally I will declare that if I had a poor opinion of the book then I would say nothing about it at all. Still, you will have to decide whether to read on, and if you read on, you will have to decide whether to depend on my comments. And then of course you will have to decide whether you think Jerry’s book is a volume you might consider reading or perhaps even buying.
What can’t be disputed is that I have lived with Lonely Beasts for perhaps seven years or so, since Jerry decided that he would write it. I watched the first flowering of enthusiasm for the project while he was in his teens. I watched the hours of dedicated work as he sought to master his own style of penmanship to achieve the vision he had in his mind. I read and re-read the stories as he wrote and re-wrote them. I watched his passion for the project wane, then wax, then wane again until he declared he might not finish it after all. Having finally completed the project he now appears to regard it as a piece of quasi-juvenilia, rooted firmly in his teen years and clearly in places showing that origin. This is a reasonable point of view.
I may have had a tiny role in shaping the book, but only a tiny one. The only basis I have for attempting to claim a microscopic mote of credit, however, is my having introduced him to a certain type of story, starting in his childhood, that might have led him in the direction that brought Lonely Beasts into the world. Authors like Italo Calvino, Ursula Le Guin, and Idries Shah. Books like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, The Prophet and Cosmicomics. But Lonely Beasts isn’t really much like any of those, although maybe faint echoes resound here and there, in certain passages.
Essentially, Lonely Beasts is a book of strange and remarkable works of precise draughtsmanship, each of which represent many, many hours of placing minute lines and dots in the right positions to create peculiar images packed with astounding detail that can, if you care to look closely, occupy your mind in surprising ways. To some people the stories might seem secondary, but they have their own deep lives too.
Speaking as a reviewer I have my favourite stories. The Windowsill Bones, for example, is a wonderful parable that is capable of standing in very distinguished company. The Etoiles is a haunting suburban tale that evokes Shaun Tan. The Rose Mask Beetles has a swampy atmosphere all its own, and is perhaps a little Calvino-esque. As for the artwork, well, I love the astounding endpapers – among the most recent examples of Jerry’s work in the book. The Night Sailor is special to me. The skeletal bird of The Windowsill Bones fits its story like a hand in a glove, as do the vine-wrapped Etoiles in their spooky summer-rain-soaked afternoons. The Cat Next Door seems have come straight through the looking glass, with a nod to Lewis Carroll.
“What is its target audience?” people ask, and that’s a question too hard to answer. It might be young adults, but not necessarily. I think it’s made for the kinds of people who like that genre of books that sits off alone and waits for dreamers to find it. If you liked the Sufi stories of Idries Shah, the poker-faced strangeness of Italo Calvino in Cosmicomics and the dreamy preachy tone of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, then you might something of lasting value in Lonely Beasts.
Copies available online, from Newcastle Region Art Gallery Shop, Maitland Region Art Galley Shop or from McDonald’s Bookshop in Maitland Mall.