Wednesday, 10 May 2017

FUN: Spies, Puzzle Solvers, and a Century of Crosswords by Paolo Bacilieri Review


Paolo Bacilieri’s Fun is a graphic history of the crossword puzzle - and it’s as exciting as it sounds! It’s also a bit of a mess. 

Along with the actual history of the crossword is the story of a fictional Italian novelist and a Disney comics writer who become friends and some random woman tries to assassinate the novelist. Not only that but there are a myriad number of digressions chucked in randomly like the story of: Spider-Man villain Hammerhead’s character, an English politician, an old man, the Disney comics writer’s mundane travels, a pug dog, a married woman having an affair, the strained relationship between an art collector and his father, an Italian graveyard, JD Salinger, Georges Perec, and an art student.  

Perhaps the book is laid out this way to reflect the variety of clues in a crossword - the majority do have a tenuous connection to crosswords in general - especially given that there isn’t that much to the history of the crossword; it’d be a much shorter than 300 page book if it just focused on that! 

But then maybe don’t do a 300 page book on the history of the crossword if it doesn’t warrant that? Especially given that almost all of these narrative detours are very dull. The Italian novelist assassination plot in particular was extremely boring, went nowhere and felt wholly unnecessary and pointless - like most of the book - yet took up more space than any other storyline. 

The anecdote about the schoolteacher/crossword creator hobbyist who was interrogated by the British military after his clues correlated with code-named D-Day Normandy landing sites was faintly interesting as was how the crossword developed across various countries after becoming instantly popular. 

By far the best part of the book though is Bacilieri’s artwork which is nothing short of stupendous. The precise drawings of New York architecture were strikingly detailed and beautifully illustrated how it probably inspired the crossword’s inventor, mirroring the structure of the crossword. Bacilieri is an outstanding artist who produces 300 pages of stunning visuals - it’s just a shame that it’s in service to such dull, leaden material that couldn’t possibly grip anyone. 

Overlong, dreary and desperately lacking focus, Fun is, unfortunately, not a very fun read.

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