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“The Lobster’s Tale”: The search for immortality, meaning and creativity

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Lobsters Tale

Chris Price & Bruce Foster

Massey University Press

RRP $45.00

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The lobster has had something of a varied life in myth, history and literature.

In mid nineteenth century Paris the French Romantic poet Gerard Nerval had a pet lobster named Thibault rescued from the fishing nets at La Rochelle which he walked at the end of a blue silk ribbon in the gardens  of the Palais-Royal.

Tupaia, Captain Cook’s translator on his 1769 expedition painted a watercolour of a cloaked Māori apparently bartering  a lobster for a piece of cloth with the botanist Joseph Banks.

Cyril Connolly’s character Palinurus in his  1944 book “The Unquiet Grave” claims to have had  previous incarnation as a lobster.

In 2012 Joseph Franzen (The Corrections) travelled to the island of Alejandro Selkirk where Alexander Selkirk was marooned for several years. His tale inspired Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”. The island is famous for its abundance of lobster and Selkirk presumably lived on the delicacy for his time there.

These various references to lobsters and other forays into literature, myth and science form the basis of Chris Price’s  new book “The Lobster’s Tale”, a poetic exploration of  the lobster’s place in history.

In addition to her essay there are two other poetic components to the book. There is a rolling one line poem which  runs along the bottom of each page referencing the main text as well providing fragments of heroic journeys and surreal experiences along with images of water, fish  and the looming climate crisis.

The other poetic element is provided by the photographs of Bruce Foster. These images at times illustrate the texts or serve as images which alert us to parallel ideas being touched on by Price. At other times they could be read as lobster-eye views of the environment.

Price describes the work as “either a braided essay or a collage essay – braided fits because of the essays multiple strands and the metaphor of the river; but “collage” suggests writing that  develops by juxtaposition and speaks to the visual art element”.

This essayist’s journey also includes references to Albert Camus and his “The Myth of Sisyphus”. Here she empathises with the Frenchman’s writing about man’s desire for significance and meaning on the one hand and the silence and absurdity of the universe on the other.

The work is an extended metaphor for the search for immortality, meaning and creativity. Quoting from Camus, Price notes that “perhaps the great work of art has less importance in itself than in the ordeal it demands of a man and the  opportunity it provides him of, overcoming his phantoms and approaching  a little closer to his naked reality”.

In reading and viewing the book one can let the text and the images  float over and around one, immersing oneself in the  lyricism of the work or one can occasionally stop, rewind, explore  and contemplate in order to fully appreciate the book’s nuanced ideas and dreams.

This is the third in the kōrero series of ‘picture books’ produced by Massey University Press which have been edited by Lloyd Jones. They are intended for grown-ups and designed to showcase leading New Zealand writers and artists working together in a collaborative and dynamic way

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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