B: A Year In Plagues & Pencils by Edward Carey

Edward Carey has become one of those writers whose work I always look forward to. The first of his books that I read, Little, which is a fascinating story around the life of Madame Tussaud was one of my favourite books a few years ago. I also enjoyed The Swallowed Man, an intriguing tale narrated by Gepetto as he resides in the belly of a sea beast. Both of these novels are brought to life by Carey’s illustrations, which add an extra depth to the characters and the story. So I was particularly excited to hear about the publication of B: A Year In Plagues & Pencils, a book through which Carey’s varied and striking pencil drawings can be highlighted.

Introduced by another favourite writer of mine, Max Porter, this book looks back on the pandemic year, and all of the daily illustrations that Carey shared via social media. This was a project which caught the attention of readers, and as Carey explores during the book, proved to be a welcome daily distraction during what remains a time of uncertainty. I myself would always look forward to spotting a new drawing on the timeline, and this was the case for many others as people voiced their support for the project, suggesting their own subjects for Carey to draw, which led, over the course of the year and beyond, to the development of a wonderful visual journey. The pictures vary in theme, with lots depicting birds and the natural world as well as famous writers, and icons of the stage and screen. There were also of course drawings which captured a particular moment during this year, from the US Presidential elections, to the BLM movement, to the day we saw the first recipient of the COVID vaccine in the UK.

The illustrations are interspersed with some of Carey’s writings as he reflects on the past year, many of which we can all relate to in some degree as we have had to adapt to extraordinary circumstances, and find ourselves isolated in many ways. But these pictures represent that connection between people, a glimpse of something special amongst a social media timeline that can often feel overwhelming, and this made A Year In Plagues and Pencils a wonderful little book to look back through. My personal favourite drawings include those of animals and birds which in itself is a reminder of the beauty of nature, and were always a highlight when I spotted them. The same goes for those drawings of familiar faces past and present, and the positive impact they have had and continue to have, and it was great to see such a varied selection of drawings together in one place. What Carey has produced is a collection of illustrations which not only capture the essence of their illustrator, but the world around us. And it was a journey that had me captivated throughout as I manoeuvred through this charming museum of the past year.

B: A Year In Plagues and Pencils was published by Gallic Books on the 4th November 2021. With thanks to Isabelle Flynn and Gallic Books for providing a copy for review.

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