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Alternate Literary Worlds and The Thin Line Between the Page and Reality in Unwritten Book 2: The Inside Man

Myra here.

I shared my thoughts about the first book in this fascinating literary-themed graphic novel series for our Saturday Reads. The story of Tom/Tommy Taylor continues in Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ Inside Man.

The Unwritten Book 2: Inside Man

Created by: Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Published by: Vertigo, 2010 Literary Award: British Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Graphic Novel (2011), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Graphic Novels and Comics (2010)
ISBN-10: 1401228739 (ISBN13: 9781401228736)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

The story begins where the first book has left off: with Tom Taylor in prison. Question now is whether he would be tried in Switzerland where the murder took place – or whether he would be extradited to the US, since most of the victims were American or British. However, the French claimed jurisdiction since the murdered housekeeper of Villa Deodati held a French passport. And so, the readers travel with Tom(my) Taylor to France.

One of the things I love about this series is the little inserts found every now and again, contributing an additional layer to the narrative, and emphasizing its polyphonic and multi-voiced nature. As can be seen in the image above, one can see website links, news reports, chat transcripts of loyal followers and conspiracy theorists about what is happening to Allegedly-Word-Made-Flesh Tom Taylor.

The reader also gets introduced to Prison Governor Claude-Louis Chadron, described by a reliable source inside the prison to be “a bastion of the republic.” 

Much of the story is written from this blogger/journalist’s perspective: the inside man – whose identity is gradually revealed as the story progressed. Chadron appeared to be a stickler for rules, a micro-manager of sorts, and seemingly incorruptible. He is also a devoted father, whose children are deeply enamoured with … guess what.. the Tommy Taylor series, leading him to be extra punitive towards Tom, whom he felt, is destroying his young children’s innocence and faith in the world.

In this book, the boundaries between reality and fiction are gradually coalescing, such that it becomes difficult to distinguish one from the other. Especially when literary events seem to come to life right before the characters’ eyes …

… and a magic doorknob, supposedly found only in the Tommy Taylor books, leads them to an alternate literary reality.

Just like in the first book, this one makes use of not just literary references, but also historical ones, specifically Jud Süß, a Nazi propaganda film popularized by Josef Goebbels, and based on a novel written by a Jewish dissident. Goebbels, in all his alternative truth glory, noted this:

This alternate literary reality also demonstrated how something becomes alive, or takes shape/form as soon as you pay sufficient attention to it – a concept reified.

If only for this, I believe this entire series deserves a re-read, especially since we now live in a world that uses gaslighting and the manipulation of facts to present some kind of parallel reality, making people feel that they have lost their footing somewhere, as they were on their way home.

The reader also gets to know Lizzie Hexam more, and it does appear that Tom Taylor is indeed word made flesh – everything that is happening to him all point towards that kind of truth, regardless of how seemingly-unbelievable it is. In fact, it is the only thing that makes sense, given all the strange events that he finds himself embroiled in. If this series is not in your radar yet, do try to find it. Makes for a good book club discussion, especially among literary enthusiasts, who would no doubt enjoy catching all the brilliant allusions and twists here.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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