Cigarettes and Bubblegum – ‘The Card’ by Graham Rawle

Graham Rawle’s Woman’s World is undoubtedly one the most inventive novels ever written. Five years in the making, it was created using words cut from vintage women’s magazines, which were then assembled, poison pen style, to form a coherent narrative. Whilst ‘The Card’ did not require such painstaking labour to bring to fruition, it is a similarly inventive novel and a joy to read from start to finish. Filled with humour and affection, it is utterly captivating. Once again, Rawle has showcased his artistic talents, this time in the form of 19 specially created bubblegum and cigarette cards.

Riley Richardson is a card collector, has been since he was a child. Socially awkward and slightly disconnected from reality, Riley is tormented by the one that got away. His dad, a printer, procured him a set of Mission Impossible cards, from which one card was withdrawn from circulation. All the other copies of card 19 were destroyed, Riley had the only one in existence. And he lost it.

Since then he has searched for it with a fervour on bordering obsession. The importance of the cards took on increased significance when, a short time later, Riley’s father disappeared. Then, years later, whilst sitting in a cafe, Riley is sure he spots Jim Phelps (from MI). Star-struck Riley follows him until the man disappears, but not before he drops a playing card. Riley picks up the card, and after a chance meeting with Princess Diana (the novel is set in 1997), interprets his discovery in a way that will alter his life irrevocably .

As in Woman’s World, Rawle portrays his central character as a someone on the fringes of normal society. Riley is a thoroughly decent chap, but the things he focuses on in life are very different from most people, making him seem a little odd. Something of a Walter Mitty character, he continually revises his reality to make life more palatable. We all do this, but Riley takes it a few steps further, mostly with hilarious consequences.

His ability to draw connections where none are present (or are they?) see him believing that British Intelligence wish to use him to protect Diana. As one strand of the novel propels itself towards its inevitable conclusion, Riley’s life twists and turns as he finds more cards, romance and a hint of what happened to his father. Though often funny, this is a tale of a life interrupted. Riley is crushed by neuroses that can be attributed to his abandonment.

Using clever wordplay, a story within a story and his delightful card illustrations, Rawle treats us to a magical modern fairy-tale. From first page to last ‘The Card’ is filled with warmth and wit, dry observation and obscure general knowledge. It is a wonderful novel and possibly the best I have read during 2012.

Many Thanks to Corinna at Atlantic Books for sending me a copy of this book for review.  

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