Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis Review

In Scarper Lee’s world, actual knives come crashing down from the sky when it rains, spinning wheels are TVs, and the weather is controlled by giant spiked mines floating in the sky, defying gravity. His parents are machines, his dad’s chained up in the shed, there are lions at the gates of his school, and a weird girl keeps following him. After his dad leaves the shed – either stolen or escaped – Scarper has to brave the strange world to get him back. But with his deathday fast approaching, will he live long enough?

Ok: The Motherless Oven is a weird book. That’ll be your reaction to the summary above and, should you choose to read it, that’ll likely be your reaction to the comic too. That said it’s much too easy to look at The Motherless Oven’s deliberately bizarre features and conclude that this is a difficult book to understand. Because if you look at it in its totality, it’s actually quite an ordinary coming-of-age story, one that’s been told a zillion times before.

It’s like if someone handed you a coat with all sorts of unusual gadgets and whimsical things attached to it – but you can still put it on. It’s still a coat. And no matter what oddities Rob Davis throws out there, The Motherless Oven is still a banal bildungsroman, albeit drawn with imagination.

The only comparison I can make with another book is Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Burgess’ novel is told in the first person and uses futuristic vernacular without explanation as to their meaning, which is jarring at first but, the more you read on, the more it starts to make sense. In Davis’ book, the opposite happens. There are a lot of ordinary elements included amidst the zaniness – suburban life continues, there are schools, there are shops - and you’re more or less grounded from the start but it fails to make any sense as it goes on.

Scarper’s gloomy world of doom and death is like some teenagers’ views of the world which Davis presents as both metaphorical and hyper-exaggerated. Scarper’s deathday, coming at the end of his high school career, could symbolize encroaching adulthood and his escaping it could be seen as an attempt to retain the innocence of youth. The knife rain could just be his reaction to inclement weather (but who’s really that upset at the rain?!), and his parent machines are just how he sees them – he created them, they exist as things in his life, and they’re not separate entities with their own lives.

You can analyse the book in this way and break it down but where Davis and Burgess separate is that Burgess’ story was simply more interesting. I may not like Burgess’ main character or his world but I care enough to keep reading and see what happens. I finished Davis’ book but I can’t say I ever warmed to it or the characters, none of whom develop into people you care about or do or say anything compelling. The book’s point that adolescence is alienating is a mundane one and the story is a bore to read as it plods listlessly along to a flat ending.

The Motherless Oven looks and sounds like an edgy, fresh book but it’s actually a tedious coming-of-age tale with plenty of oddities to try and distract you from its emptiness. I appreciate Davis’ attempts to try and do something different, at least with the presentation, but it only emphasises how little there is to the book’s story. I can’t recommend this even to fans of indie comics - it’s much too dull a read.

The Motherless Oven

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