16 May 2011

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough

Written by Published in Book Reviews

Despite, or perhaps because of, having his books once banned in Swiss nurseries and Reagan’s America (he was a 1960s agitprop satirist), Tomi Ungerer has found acclaim as an illustrator and children’s writer. Though little known in the UK (he is a cult hero in his native France and in America), his imaginative, horror-tinged stories have had children – and adults – in thrall since the early 1970s.

Reading these memoirs of his four-year attempt to farm in the wilderness of mid-1970s Nova Scotia is like sniffing the fumes that must have fuelled his imagination. Ungerer depicts and beautifully illustrates this wild, untamed corner of Canada as mad and savage. It is a place where the population’s main preoccupation is with burning down buildings; where the harsh reality of farming is learned through necessary, and indiscriminate, slaughter; and where madness, alcoholism and random acts of violence abound. 

Attempting to live self-sufficiently off land and sea, Ungerer and his wife Yvonne comfortably wear the mantles of pioneers in a narrative so full of riches and quirkiness I was instantly hooked. The tenderness with which he writes about the characters that circled their life, the quality of his anecdotal wit and observations, his love of the absurd, the range of the couple’s triumphs and trials and the vivid, poetic descriptions of the Nova Scotian landscape serve to make this an instant classic.

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: Life in the Back of Beyond by Tomi Ungerer (Phaidon) £19.95 

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