The Exquisite Corpse Adventure – Various Authors

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is a book written by twenty authors. The story is about two circus orphans searching for the remains of a Top-Secret Robot, who can retrieve their parents from another dimension. From that synopsis alone you can see why I read this book.

The title refers to a game invented by the surrealist Andre Breton. A person writes a line on a piece of paper, folds the paper so that only their line can be seen, and passes the paper onto the person next to them. They write their piece, fold it so the next person can only see the line they wrote, and so the game goes on. It’s a bit like Chinese Whispers, really. I remember doing it once in Secondary School, I was the charming kid who wrote the bit where everyone died. (In another life I could have been a troll…)

The Exquisite Corpse in the book’s title also refers to the Top-Secret Robot, obviously.

According to the book’s website, The Exquisite Corpse Adventure was was written on a slight variation on Breton’s method. The authors were allowed to read all the previous chapters. The illustrators could only read the chapters their reading. There are pictures, and they’re pretty good.

As you’d expect the adventure is spotty, inconsistent and surreal. Baby rollerskating in a boxing rink surreal. In TvTrope terminology the book is on some sort of Genre Roulette. There’s science-fiction, fantasy, family drama, comedy and even cosmic horror in here. It’s never too early for a bit of cosmic horror, I reckon.

Susan Cooper was a standout author for me. I was familiar with her writing creepy stuff like The Dark Is Rising, but here she was really funny. She introduces a talking elephant called Hathi.

Daniel Handler, who writes under the name of Lemony Snicket, was another big surprise. I never got into his Series of  Unfortunate Events franchise. I started reading the first book, but the events were too silly and the narration too contrived for me. The Jim Carrey film was good, though. Handler writes the best chapter in The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, about a depressed railway safety worker.

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure would make a suitable present for a child who already likes reading, and the blurb says it’s suitable for ages nine to five. This might also be a good book to read to a class of children.

The purpose of the book is to encourage children to read, but it isn’t a good representation of the world of literature. Books are great when you’re a kid. It’s all Captain Underpants, scatology, wonder, adventure and novelty. Interesting fiction tends to peter out in the Young Adult years, when the focus switches to tedious romance and other social minutiae. The adult section of your local library can be fairly dire place, a wasteland of red-heart and green-castle stickers. Still, I’ve never seen a Robert Silverberg marketed towards children or teenagers. It’s a pity that the books that get kids passionate about reading are rarely replicated for teenagers or adults.

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