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Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson Hardcover – October 2, 2012
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*Starred Review* Siegel has drawn both a graphic novel (To Dance, 2006, by his wife, Siena Cherson Siegel) and his own picture books (Moving House, 2011), but in this spellbinding work his art takes both a giant step forward and a drifting look back. Rendered entirely in charcoal pencil, the panels evoke both the misty haze of river water and a foggy cloud of memory, as Captain Twain recounts an episode aboard the Lorelei, a luxury steamboat on the mighty Hudson River in 1887. Life on board has Twain suspended between tending the ship and its needy passengers and barely tolerating the French cad who owns the liner and uses it as grazing ground for his sexual exploits—until the night he finds a harpoon-pierced mermaid clawing her way aboard. As he secretly nurses her back to health in his cabin, Twain falls under a many-layered siren song of physical desire, creative inspiration, and emotional severance from his life on land and ailing wife at home. Siegel’s novel of obsessive romance and mythological realism churns through deep pools of humor, passion, and darkness. Studied panoramas of the intricate working of steamboats will steal away whatever breath you have left over from the mermaid’s beauty and the story’s outright tension as it steers toward a complex, catastrophic climax. Though serialized online, this is a luxurious graphic novel in its print form and is absolutely not to be missed. --Ian Chipman
“This extraordinary work of fiction pushes the graphic novel well beyond its previous limits. The narrative takes us on many journeys through space and time, but is more than a mere tale. It's about past and present, the absolute importance of myth, of language, of stories themselves. In superb words and drawings, it also explores obsession and love in a way that is original to the genre, and to literature itself. In the best sense, the completed work succeeds in a very difficult task: making the reader more human. Bravo!” ―Pete Hamill
“Addictive.” ―Rachel Maddow
“Wow. Fabulous.” ―Robin McKinley
“A gorgeous piece of work about moral conflicts, romantic distress, and fishy secrets.” ―Laura Kipnis
“A romance in the truest sense of the word, Sailor Twain is a marvel of graphical beauty and complex, intelligent storytelling. Siegel creates a misty, magical Hudson river that is somehow realer and truer and more seductive and many fathoms deeper than the real thing.” ―Lev Grossman
“I had a most engaging voyage on the doomed Lorelei, and I much enjoyed meeting young Captain Twain -- not to mention the mermaid in the Hudson. This is a gripping novel with compelling characters, enhanced by haunting, erotically charged drawings.” ―John Irving
“Siegel's illustrations underscore the multiple themes of deceit and deception: softly blurred charcoal riverscapes transform the Hudson into a proving ground for dark magic, and the doe-eyed characters are nowhere near as innocent as they look. You're never too old for a well-told fairy tale.” ―BCCB
“Absolutely not to be missed.” ―Booklist, starred review
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One slight disappointment was the Kindle ebook format. The resolution just wasn't impressive, and it was stuck in a two-page layout. I wish we had the option to view only one page at a time, at full screen width, and to zoom everything. On the original sailortwain.com website, when the novel was still serialized there, I was able to zoom the images to about four times what I can now in the ebook. Yes, in the ebook the individual panels are clickable, so you can read everything, but the full-page panels cannot be enlarged at all, except for the little sections where there is text! On my iPad Mini, that meant that each full page panel was only about five or six inches high. I've read in other reader comments on sailortwain.com, that the print version was even better than seeing it on the website. So get the paper book instead of the ebook, if you can. But do, by all means, get this book!
The artwork is something I'm not very used to, but I found the style enjoyable and fitting for the story. I can't imagine this book without the charcoal adding to the mood. I was delighted to find the watery sea themes found everywhere, even the less obvious places. Scales are all over the women's outfits, as are other nautical motifs, further accentuating the overall charm and a haunting theme. Though I am surprised at the complaints about the style being too off-putting for the mood. Maybe the best way to approach this is with a more open mind in order to appreciate the artwork as a device for the story, and not to stack this against other comic styles. Capt. Twain may look like a muppet but I think I should remind everyone that TinTin also had a face like a snowman. I considered lending this book to my preteen brother, but I was a bit worried about the mild sexual content. For an adult, this is hardly shocking, but for a young adult, the content may be impressionable.
As for the story, I devoured the plot of this book so fast, I might've bit off my own hand at the end. What I liked about the story was the theme of "completeness" in many layers that can be extremely ambiguous. I don't want to say it's purely the old love vs. lust argument. It's more than that to me beginning with the obvious fact that mermaids are half human and half fish. And the main character with the blank face, as if he is just a shell of a person, not completely whole. Along the way, I was constantly thinking about the ways that these characters struggle to completion, leading me to question which of the many possible ways to interpret the story is more "whole". And exactly what side is the writer on?
If there were some objections I had to this book, it would be that I wish there would be more material near the end. I don't think this book started too slowly, but the ending could have had one or two intermissions between all the rising action that would've made it seem less rushed. However, I think the last few pages were well thought out.
I know I will come back to this book again in a few years with hopefully deeper understanding.
It should be noted that this is an adults book with mature themes and images.
If you love mermaids, steamboats, great literature or fantasy this is your book. Be warned, once you hear the mermaids song you will forever be haunted by it.
The richness of the story is certainly enhanced in book form. I love turning through the story's pages.
Siegel's artwork is a unique combination of fine technique, a dark, smudgy romantic style, and cartoonish whimsy.
Immerse yourself in this story of the Hudson River, but take care, or the Mermaid's seductive song may lure you deeper than you wished to go...
The gritty style really sets the scene and panels that have no text still tell an interesting story. As far as the writing and story itself. I did enjoy it, but I also felt that it missed a really good opportunity to fully develop characters and mermaid lore.
Still a great graphic novel!
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