Published December 1st 2005 by Faber and Faber (First published 1997)
Author: Tim Burton
Genre: Poetry/fiction/short stories/humour
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Stick Boy liked Match Girl, he liked her a lot.”
Occupying a similarly sinister and macabre world to the American artist Edward Gorey, Tim Burton’s work is similarly difficult to place. This is a beautifully produced book filled with fine line drawings – many in colour – illustrating 23 small verse stories which all centre on a surreal deformity – the eponymous Oyster Boy, Stain Boy, The Boy with Nails in his Eyes, Junk Girl, The Pin Cushion Queen… The tales are all quietly disturbing. As with Burton’s cinematic work (Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas and Mars Attacks) the book seems aimed at children but the subtexts feel too disquieting. This however is where Burton’s genius lies. Children are outcasts in the adult world and their own notion of what is important, grave, frightening and odd is different to ours. We each remember the child inside of us and so are each compelled to recognise the otherness within ourselves: the outcasts that Burton paints are somehow strangely well known to us. As dark and disturbing as the best fairy tales Burton shares a space with the Brothers Grimm – a place that all children know exists when the lights go out and the adults leave the room. – Mark Thwaite
I’m reviewing this after reading it for a second time. The first time I read it was in my teenage years after falling in love with all things Tim Burton. He is first and foremost a film director, but that doesn’t mean his writing is any less brilliant.
This is an odd book, in that it is made up of stories in poetry form. So you could put it in either category, but instead I think it deserves a place in the category simply marked ‘CLASSIC TIM BURTON’.
If you’re a fan of his, you’ll know his style. You’ll recognise his characters and his illustrations a mile off, and this collection will satisfy all your Burton needs. The subject matter is dark, but all the characters are children, and the poetry is simple and easy to read. It knocks you off balance with some of its content, and turns from sweet and amusing to extremely unsettling.
The poem that shocked me for a second time is the one that is featured in the title: ‘The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy’. It is strange that although I know Oyster Boy will come to his death before I’ve even read it, it still shocks me.
The one that I think best describes the kind of humour that is scattered through his book is ‘Stick Boy’s Festive Season’ simply because it’s so short but still has an impact and a sadness to it:
Some character’s make more than one appearance, but you’ll love them all. The only criticism I could make of this book is…that I wish it was longer! There is so much imagination and beautiful illustrations that I definitely crave more. Plus, this book only took about 10-15 minutes to read – maybe less! It’s good for re-visiting, but the initial read through is all too fleeting.
There’s also a subtle Christmas theme running throughout this collection, so it’s a quick one to read if you want to feel festive, and it’ll make a lovely Christmas gift for any fan of Tim Burton, poetry, or just books in general.
This was the book that originally inspired me to write poetry, so go and give it a read and you might be inspired too.
Link to the book on Goodreads: