28 May 2012

Daniel Wallace: Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions (1998)

Daniel Wallace comes from Alabama, where Big Fish is set. This is story tied together by a string of tall stories and jokes told by the narrator Will Bloom, but originating from his father Edward. Here we have tales of a two-headed woman, a confrontation with an enormous giant, a daring wrestle with a killer snake, an encounter with a finger-eating dog, etc, and each time Edward comes out looking like a hero.

Now that he's dying, will Edward reveal his true self to Will, will the man who's been very much an absentee father physically and mentally (for he certainly seems to hide behind his own fantastic inventions) finally show the reality that must lie beneath the layers of ontological evasiveness? The myth of the man is wearing thin.

There are obvious allusions in this novel to Homer's Odyssey, particularly in Edward's heroics (even though they're mainly mock), in his restless quest for adventure, and in his (here very strained) relationship with his more conventional son. Also, Jenny Hill could make for a very watered down Circe, and that glass eye seems to be a tenuous reference to Cyclops. Plus, Joyce's Ulysses, itself a kind of reworking of Homer, is of course present in the name Bloom.

The 2003 movie  based on the book and retaining the half-title is in many ways different, but the spirit of the original is still there, and this is an obvious opportunity for Tim Burton to indulge in unadulterated fantasy.

The book too has a slight haunting quality, but with a rather different closure from the movie.

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