With Edward Carey’s Little still calling to me from my TBR pile, I was determined to read his latest book, B: A Year in Plague and Pencils immediately it arrived. My enormous thanks to Katrina Power and FMcM Associates for sending me a copy of B: A Year in Plague and Pencils by Edward Carey in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.
B: A Year in Plague and Pencils was published by Gallic Books on 4th November 2021 and is available to purchase here.
B: A Year in Plague and Pencils
‘I blame the pencil. I hadn’t meant to do it. I wasn’t thinking. It just happened that way.’
In March 2020, as lockdowns were imposed around the world, author and illustrator Edward Carey published a sketch on social media, with a plan to keep posting a drawing a day from his family home in Austin, Texas, until life returned to normal. One hundred and fifty pencil stubs later, he was still drawing.
Carey’s hand moved with world events, chronicling pandemic and politics. It reached into the past, taking inspiration from history, and escaped grim reality through flights of vivid imagination and studies of the natural world. The drawings became a way of charting time, of moving forward, and maintaining connection at a time of isolation.
This remarkable collection of words and drawings from the acclaimed author of Little and The Swallowed Man charts a tumultuous year in pencil, finding beauty amid the horror of extraordinary times.
Featuring an Introduction by Max Porter.
My Review of B: A Year in Plague and Pencils
A series of illustrations completed during the Covid pandemic.
Before I begin my review proper, I’d just like to comment on the lovely physical quality of B: A Year in Plague and Pencils as it is the perfect size for holding in the hand and the hardbacked version I have is so robust and elegant that it would make a superb gift.
I confess I hadn’t even got to the foreword by Max Porter before I was captivated by B: A Year in Plague and Pencils. The dedication in the front and the Shakespearean quotation at the beginning felt so apt and so attuned to what we’ve all been experiencing that I felt an instant emotional connection. Add in the superb eloquence of Max Porter in introducing Edward Carey’s work and B: A Year in Plague and Pencils feels less like a book of illustrations and more like the recreation of human connection. I loved it.
Edward Carey’s commentary on his drawings is wonderful. He manages to articulate exactly how so many of us have felt in recent times, whilst providing us with the escapism he knows we have all missed. His own sense of displacement, marooned in Texas but yearning for the UK, feels utterly identifiable making B: A Year in Plague and Pencils a microcosm of the pandemic world. However, at the same time, the book affords the reader the opportunity to meet new people, recall forgotten memories and to travel through time and space vicariously. Edward Carey’s illustrations led me to research the unfamiliar, so that the book has an existence beyond its pages that adds value to the reading. And, indeed there is reading as well as the visual delights to be found in B: A Year in Plague and Pencils so that I finished the book feeling as if I’d been introduced to a new friend and that I had been given a privileged insight into Edward Carey’s personal life.
There’s incredible variety in the illustrations from my favourite poet John Donne to a tardigrade so that absolutely anyone of any age picking up B: A Year in Plague and Pencils will find a connection, a relevance and something they can relate to. The progression (or should that be decline) of ‘A determined young man’ throughout the book is so good. But then so are all the illustrations covering categories from art to nature, literature to history, making this boom an absolute joy. It’s fascinating, sometimes disturbing, but always totally absorbing and entertaining. As someone who has no artistic talent whatsoever, I found myself in awe of the way Edward Carey depicted everything from the instantly recognisable hair of Albert Einstein to the scales on a pangolin.
B: A Year in Plague and Pencils is a book that immortalises perhaps the most challenging year in modern history, but it does so with humanity, respect and an intensity of emotion in the illustrations that have given me limitless respect for Edward Carey. I loved B: A Year in Plague and Pencils.
About Edward Carey
Edward Carey was born in Norfolk, England. He is a novelist, visual artist, playwright and director. He is the author of four novels, including Little, which was a Times and Sunday Times book of the year, and the YA series The Iremonger Trilogy. His collection of lockdown drawings, B: A Year in Plagues and Pencils, was published in November 2021.
Edward lives in the United States and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.