Review Blog

Mar 01 2013

The Cartographer by Peter Twohig

cover image

Fourth Estate, 2012. ISBN 9780732293161.
(Age: Senior secondary - adult) Highly recommended. The Cartographer is a grimly joyous account of a young boy who lives in a tough Melbourne suburb in the 1950s. His identical twin, Tom, has recently died. Tom was 'bold as brass'; our unnamed protagonist is 'sharp as a tack'. Now he is trying to be both boys, adopting Tom's mannerisms until he is disappearing himself. The boy's perspective is innocent, yet knowing. He is tinged with pain and the ugliness of the world; witnessing murder, rape and kidnapping, but still hopeful. His original voice is a tour de force.
He seems to be dealing with his grief and trying to find meaning by mapping his shady neighbourhood; beginning with the streets and buildings - outside and then progressing inside to hear secrets, and into the railway tunnels and drains. The comic drawings on the cover signify his role as an urban superhero-explorer. He views the horrible things that happen to him as tests. The Mapping Manual which he has found helps him feel that he can create a world of maps 'in which I could walk around in without getting frightened half to death every five minutes. It was almost as if I was protected by a secret identity . . . My thought was to harness the power I had been using to using to turn myself into Tom to instead turn myself into a brand-new super identity, far more powerful than both of us together . . . 'the cartographer' '.
Although from the adult list and with corresponding content, the boy's quest for understanding and survival, the book's principle that life is to be explored, and the gripping, accessible style and superhero metaphors, make The Cartographer an appealing and alternative read for mature secondary students.
Joy Lawn

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