You’ve “met” Phil Day, author of A chink in a daisy-chain, here before. He illustrated co-publisher Julian Davies’ Crow mellow (my review) and Hartman Wallis’ Who said what, exactly, which I reviewed very recently. This time, though, Day is author as well as illustrator.
It’s a fun, mind-bending book – with the fun starting on the cover page in which the illustration, as befits a story inspired by Alice I suppose, is upside down. On the back cover is a simple statement: “If there is a perfect book, Alice is it”. This is the question – oops, statement, really – to which Day returns regularly throughout his short book. But, before I talk more about that, I’ll share publisher Julian Davies’ description of the book in his covering letter:
The book is a creative essay, cum personal reflection, on the relationship between Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, personal identity and argumentative opinion. It is the first in a three-book series Phil plans to write on the embattled nature of individual intellectual and creative autonomy.
So, now, are you any the wiser? Perhaps not? And I’m not sure that I can enlighten you, but I’ll try.
The essay could also – perhaps – be described as a memoir, except that I would be hard-pressed to say hand-on-heart which of what Day tells us really happened, if any of it did? Or perhaps all of it did, just not quite the way Day tells it!
The essay starts with Day and his wife sitting on the minimal furniture left in the lounge-room of the Shillams (look at that name upside down and see what you get!) who are moving to Grafton (as you do!) They had been invited for farewell dinner and drinks and, over a mocktail called Clancy of the Overflow and Gin-and-Tonics served in teacups from the piano-doubling-as-a-bar, Day makes his pronouncement concerning Alice. “Can’t see why, Mr S said” – and we’re off, following Day’s weird and wonderful mind just as Alice followed weird and wonderful creatures down the rabbit-hole.
What makes Alice so good, poses Day’s foil, Mr S? Well, besides the fact that Day didn’t say it was “good” but that it was “perfect”, he doesn’t want to get into discussions of “the meaning of good”. And then Mr S asks him to “look at the man”, but, quite rightly, Day isn’t interested in the man either:
I didn’t want to look at the man. I don’t care about the man. I wasn’t drawn to the man, it was the book itself that made me say–If there is a perfect book, Alice is it.
You are probably following this ok right now – the ideas and the language – and it does make sense. It continues to make sense as Day embarks on a critique of teaching, of
the state government syllabus–a deformed thing that devalued the one-off self-directed realisations that a student might naturally become conscious of through their own curiosity. But because the state government syllabus was created by teachers it had no chance of being anything more than an approved state government syllabus, and because of the approved state government syllabus, I instructed my students not to be curious …
And of course curiosity is why Alice is so special. Not that Day says this specifically, but we know this is what he means.
From here, though, the connections and word associations become increasingly bizarre or absurd, just like in Alice. They are not the sorts of associations that make sense in the telling. You have to read it yourself. You have to follow Hobbes the cat, and the peppered oysters, the trees and the warrens, not to mention red-painted bedrooms and nursery rhymes, to find your own meaning … Beyond that my lips are sealed.
I wonder what Phil Day will come up with next in his personal odyssey into curiosity and creativity. Whatever it is, it will be original, probably absurd, definitely cheeky, and very likely a cri-de-coeur for the freedom to think unbound by rules and approved state government syllabi.
Lisa at ANZLitLovers also enjoyed the book.
Phil Day (author and illustrator)
A chink in a daisy-chain
Braidwood: Finlay Lloyd, 2017
(Review copy courtesy Finlay Lloyd)