Perspectives – And the Ocean was our Sky

Patrick Ness, the author of ‘a Monster Calls‘ and ‘the Chaos Walking‘ trilogy,  is known for looking at things from a different perspective – so the inverted point of view in ‘And the Ocean was our Sky‘ should come as no surprise.

It is a tale told from the point of view of Bathsheba. Who or what Bathsheba is, takes a while for the reader to determine. However, when this comes about, it really turns your thoughts upside down.

Thankfully, there is some revelation of the setting in the beautiful illustrations of Rovina Cai. These play an integral part of the story, creating a time to pause and reflect on the events in the text. They are also a  reminder that different worldviews exist; their swirling colours echo the turbulence of the tale. (Warning: some of these may upset young readers.)

Key character Bathsheba reluctantly works as an apprentice under Captain Alexandra, in brutal battles against their foe. She bemoans that she never wished to be a hunter, and it becomes clear that her acute thinking skills will come to the fore. She constantly questions the morality and reasons for their obsessive searches for the devil known as ‘Toby Wick’, and their aggressive hunt for ‘man-ships’.

And the Ocean was our Sky‘ begins with ‘Call me Bathsheba…’ – a line that mimics one from Herman Melville’s famous ‘Moby Dick’. Indeed, there are many clever nods to this famous tale – now told by Ness from a far different perspective, where the hunted becomes the hunter! Ness has also made some interesting choices when naming characters like Bathsheba, Alexandra, Demetrius and Wilhelmina – the work of a master craftsman, don’t you think?

The story questions the things which we may use to justify our actions, emotions and prejudices. Should there be a never-ending war, just because “So it has been, so it shall always be.”? Is the enemy real or a myth? Do we keep enemies in our minds without really knowing why? Can moral choice instead override the historical biases laid on a culture? Must Bathsheba continue to follow in her assigned role forever?

Below, Patrick Ness introduces his book:

 # This was read as an audiobook – but fortunately with the beautifully illustrated copy on hand. This was definitely a time where the physical book was essential!! 

## ‘A Monster Calls‘ was previously reviewed here.

the Great Gatsby – a fresh look – Nicki Greenberg

A new view of the classic novel by F.Scott Fitzgerald is presented by Nicki Greenberg in her graphic adaptation – a book which was six years in the making. The suave Jay Gatsby comes to life as a seahorse, perhaps alluding to him as a creature of mystery and intrigue. His lifelong love interest, Daisy, features as a dandelion creature, and friend to all, Nick Carraway, presents in a slug-like appearance as he narrates the tragic tale.

Other characters within Nicki’s adaptation include the seductive Jordan Baker, Daisy’s long-time friend; with a somewhat shady side to her, Jordan’s squid-like appearance exudes her questionable nature. Another, Tom Buchanan who is Daisy’s husband, is a barechested beast of a character, with threatening size and appearance in most of the frames in which he appears. In both cases their nature is well defined by their appearance rather than words.

The era in which the novel was set is alluded to visually, using sepia tones and with frames set out like an old photo album. Greenberg alludes to the partying and glamour associated with the Gatsby lifestyle, as the in-crowd frolic in many of the photos. She also captures some of the inanity and vagueness of the partygoers’s conversations (reflecting their true interest: in being seen at Gatsby’s), though they finally fade to be ghosts of insignificance in the background as the story develops.

Reading ‘the Great Gatsby’ as a graphic novel brings about a different experience. But be warned: while some people read graphic novels rather quickly, it is well worth taking the time to absorb all the features – and to consider how Greenberg can change the tone of the story with colour, shading, placement of the frames and text within the frames. Use of whitespace (which is actually black) also works to alter the speed with which the story needs to be read. Even the changing placement of the individual picture/photo frames can impact on the pace and mood of the tale.

To paraphrase Nicki’s own words (when she was referring to a fellow graphic novelist’s book):

…try, if you possibly can, to slow down just a tiny bit. Linger a little in the wonderful lush landscapes of (Gatsby’s world and the fabulous intrigues of 1920’s New York). Enjoy the clever use of space in the page layouts, the colours and textures, and the complex blocking required to portray so many characters’ interlocking conversations.

For now, I think I will revisit both versions of the Great Gatsby again soon – the original to find the tone of the original author, and Nicki Greenberg’s version to find those intricate details I have missed the first time around. For more about the book from the author, see:

There is also a great video where Nicki speaks about creating a graphic novel and points out some of the dfferences to a ‘normal’ book at: – which makes really interesting viewing. If you haven’t tried a graphic novel before, then gives this book a go or look at some of those mentioned earlier on this blog.

10 Little Insects – Davide Cali

When I first heard of ’10 Little Insects’ at a recent CBCA conference in Adelaide, I thought it would be fun to read. I didn’t expect to be sitting and giggling as I moved through the pages – much to the mirth of my family, on a glum Saturday afternoon.

From the first pages of this new graphic novel, to the very end (which I almost missed…) there was a lot to keep you laughing and musing about along the way. In this whodunnit mystery, we follow the trails of 10 insects invited to Tortoise Island for a variety of curious reasons. Each ‘guest’ has come along with a different expectation of a weekend at an exclusive, but mysterious mansion on a secluded island.

Unfortunately, one by one, they meet an untimely death – reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ (or ‘Ten Little Indians’ as it was released in the US). Of course they attempt to solve the mystery of individual deaths along the way, but as in any good Agatha Christie novel, the crimes aren’t solved completely till the very end; in an extremely humorous way.

’10 Little Insects’ was launched in Australia by Nicki Greenberg, a very clever Australian writer and illustrator, with an affinity for graphic novels. You can read her comments from the launch, and thus understand why she was the ideal candidate to launch the book in Australia. Read her comments carefully, especially when she implores:

“…try, if you possibly can, to slow down just a tiny bit. Linger a little in the wonderful lush landscapes of the island and the fabulous interiors of the mansion. Enjoy the clever use of space in the page layouts, the colours and textures, and the complex blocking required to portray so many characters’ interlocking conversations.”  (Nicki Greenberg,

And since Nicki spoke so eloquently and effusively about this book, there is little more I can say – except to recommend your read this, whenever you get the chance… then read it again to pick up what you missed (either in the clever illustrations of Vincent Pianina, Davide Cali’s punctuating text) the first time.

Do you enjoy graphic novels? or are they something new you are yet to explore?  are you like me, and would like to compare them with the original (if they are an adaptation)? or would you just prefer to take them at face value?

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Wilful Eye – fairytales retold

‘When I was a child, I did not love fairytales…They frightened me almost as much as they fascinated me (but) when I grew up, I came to love fairytales for all the things that had frightened me as a child…’ writes Isobelle Carmody in the introduction to ‘Tales from the Tower: the Wilful Eye’.

This collection of 6 short stories by renowned fantasy authors revisits classic fairytales to give them a modern twist. At the same time, each of the stories reflects the differences and nuances of individual authors.

Carmody invited the authors to explore fairy tales of their own choosing. Some chose familiar tales (like Rumpelstiltskin and Beauty and the Beast) as their foundation; others worked with slightly less well-known stories. All have moved away from the Disneyfied versions known to modern children, and have provided some interesting and varied scenarios.

Indeed, a binding feature of the stories is the way in which traditional tales have been transformed, as they move away from their traditional audience of young children to a much more mature one. Already the tales have raised some controversy, many questioning whether they even suit a young adult market. (But then, this may just give the book greater appeal and material for exploration and discussion?)

We are forewarned of the nature of the book in both its blurb and Carmody’s introduction:

‘Characters are enchanted, they transgress, they yearn, they hunger, they hate and, sometimes, they kill.
Some of the stories inhabit a traditional fairytale world, while others are set in the distant future. Some are set in the present and some in an alternative present. The stories offer no prescription for living or moral advice and none belong in a nursery.’

However, the depth and detail, and the twists and turns which each tale takes, inspired by fairy tales of old, makes this book well worth the study – particularly for students in years 11 and 12 Extension English. That some of these stories touch on controversial issues, or that others are dark and enchanting, is nothing new to the world a fairytale appropriation, or indeed to many dark fairytales passed down the generations in the past – after all, many children have been frightened by fairytales, as attested to by Carmody herself.

Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford

jane-bites-back“It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is still alive today.. as a vampire.”

As a Jane Austen fan you may, like many, approach this book cautiously. Is it just another spin-off, carelessly adapting the legendary Austen to help promote a new book? How adept is the writer, or is he just one riding on the fame of one of the classic authors of all time? Or maybe he’s an Austen fan just attempting to get in on the vampire/ Twilight craze?

The only way to judge is to read this tale: where Jane Austen is alive and running a bookstore in a sleepy little town called Brakeston near New York. From here, she hopes to publish a new novel, the first in her persona of Jane Fairfax – since it would be impossible to trade on her real name, when she supposedly died 200 years ago!

But the publishing world is tough, and her manuscript is rejected 116 times, before a glimmer of hope comes her way. We watch her frustrations, as all sorts of Jane-Austen-paraphernalia fly off the shelf of her bookstore, and she has to deal with the commercial roadshow of getting published.

Along the way, we find Jane is in fact a vampire; though a mostly well-behaved one. She never ages, and this has an impact on how she lives her life, and has forced her to relocate many times in the last 200 years.

Her dream to be published yet again is hampered by others out for self gain. How she deals with these episodes is told in a witty way, that will have readers chuckling as they consider the consequences for all those around her. Can she really expect to live a normal life? Can she maintain normal relationships? What will happen when her real identity is discovered? And who is the handsome mystery man that has such an impact on those around him?

Michael Thomas Ford’s book has received praise from lots of different readers – including Austen diehards, vampire lovers and romance readers. And he promises more to come (and certainly leaves the ending open for more to happen in Jane’s life). It’s a fun, quirky mix of literary history and a send up of the latest vampire rage, while providing a light entertaining tale set in the commerce of the modern day world. So just sit back and enjoy the tale – you will have others wondering what you are smiling about!

## And here’s a quote from the author, in case you were worried that he didn’t think much about Jane Austen’s place in history:

The thing is it never occurred to me that making Austen a vampire was in any way disrespectful. Rather, I looked at it as giving her the chance to take revenge on those who have appropriated her literary genius for their own profit. I thought her fans (among whom I of course count myself) would cheer this opportunity for her to reclaim her rightful place in the literary world, even if she does have to do it under a pseudonym. From an interview in the Huffington Post, January 4, 2010.

Hamlet: a novel

What do you do with a great story that, for some, is hard to understand? Well if you are John Marsden, you take it, and mould it into a modern shape, using characters and language that teens might find more acceptable.

When we first meet Hamlet, he is kicking about with Horatio; words at first and then a football on a grassy paddock (in Denmark). The boys play about as the average teen boy might, and discuss the state of affairs of ‘Affairs of State’ – i.e. the death of Hamlet’s father and his mother’s subsequent remarriage to his uncle.

Marsden does a reasonable job of modernising the Shakespearean tale, but at times the mix falls short. It is npt always easy to accept the change of language that exists through the novel, as Marsden strives to stay true to Shakespeare while adding the modern spin. (It is as though he hadn’t decided whether to stay true to Shakespeare’s prose or totally reinterpret for the modern adolescent.)

The modern spin also adds some disturbing twists to the classic, as Hamlet displays a dark and cruel side at times. His actions in the forest, dealing with a dying badger, portray an unexpected sadistic nature. Sensual tension in Ophelia plays her as a pawn in Hamlet’s game – an object, rather than a person, in his eyes, according to Marsden.

In ‘Hamlet: a novel’, Marsden has begun an interesting appropriation of one of the great bard’s plays. The opening chapters lure with promise. But the latter scenes seem to fade to insignificance.

An interesting read nonetheless. It could be a useful introduction to the classic, and worthy of discussion about how it compares. Be careful it might even trap you into looking further into the real thing!