Book review: Evie Wyld's graphic memoir of a shark-infested childhood has plenty of bite
Novelist teams up with illustrator Joe Sumner on a memoir that's a fantastic read - the image adorable, the writing by turns wry and wise
How Evie Wyld, the prize-winning novelist ( After the Fire, A Still Small Voice; All the Birds, Singing), and Joe Sumner, the model-maker and illustrator, found each other is a mystery. Irrespective, theirs is a partnership made in heaven. In Everything is Teeth, an evocative graphic memoir about Wyld's shark-infested childhood, words and pictures are in perfect harmony.
Sumner works in a mostly monochrome palette, but one that is frequently splashed with the crimson of blood. It's while visiting Australian relatives on the coast of New South Wales that Wyld first falls for all things shark. Her obsession begins with her uncle's fishing stories, but tips into something more passionate when, aged six, she stumbles on a book called Shark Attack. Inside is an account - plus gruesome photographs - of the injuries sustained in 1963 by filmmaker and conservationist Rodney Fox, whose body was ripped open by a great white while he was spear-fishing (miraculously, he survived). First, she takes in the "impossible red sausages" of his guts in a "before" photograph. Then she absorbs the semi-circle of horsehair stitches that form a "cartoon apple bite" in an "after" shot. Finally, she looks at Fox's face: "an expression that said it was just fine".
Back in London, though, it's not Fox who dominates her thoughts but the creature that savaged him. At first, Wyld's scary shark tales are, paradoxically, a balm, for they make life at home seem safe and calm. But in time, they begin to trouble her. Stalked by sharks night and day, the sofa becomes a raft beneath which something with a shovel snout lurks, and the bath a sinister pond populated by fish (the soap) and manta rays (her flannel).
What a fantastic book this is. Sumner's drawings are adorable and acute; Wyld's words are first wry and then wise. Embracing life and death and everything in between,
Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner (Jonathan Cape)