Written by Ingrid Chambers.
Art by Carole Maurel.
93 pages - Full Colour - £6.99 digital.
Published by Archaia.
The Story - ‘After years of difficulty trying to have children, a young couple finally announce their pregnancy, only to have the most joyous day of their lives replaced with one of unexpected heartbreak. Their relationship is put to the test as they forge ahead, working together to rebuild themselves amidst the churning tumult of devastating loss, and ultimately facing the soul-crushing reality that they may never conceive a child of their own.’
The Review - I was tipped off about this book by the Talking Comics podcast that rated it amongst the best of 2019. I had a look and realised that the art was by Carole Maurel who had drawn Luisa: Now and Then a couple of years ago from Humanoids. I’d immensely enjoyed that book and you can find a review of it here http://neverironanything.blogspot.com/2018/08/in-review-luisa-now-then-by-carole.html So I decided to go sight unseen and download this graphic novel. Turns out that it contained subject matter that if anyone knew me twenty odd years ago would know that it struck a serious chord with my own life.
Going in to such a book that may hold emotions long since buried and also a book that has been spoken about so glowingly weighed heavily on reading it in my role as a reviewer. I have invested much of late in reviewing books with a fair but critical eye so I will endeavour to continue in that vein. Otherwise what worth is there in a review?
This story is a true one that was experienced by Ingrid Chambers and her partner and in her afterward she describes the story as ‘...an album about love, loss (and) reconstruction.’ She talks about healing and mourning as does the comic. And about the distance that was needed to create the story as a piece of art.
The book is at ninety-three pages nevertheless quite a quick read and as you can imagine there are whole sequences that are wordless and rely on reaction and implication. The art impeccably handles the facial acting and slows down the pace to allow for genuinely heart-breaking moments of truthful emotion especially between the couple. They are not named and will refer to each other in ways other than first names , ‘honey’ for example, and this allows for us all to peer into their lives and walk in their shoes.
There is also a clever use of colour. Some pages are fully coloured and sit with that overly realistic glow reflecting some moments of caution, joy, impatience and yes sadness. After the death of their son the world switches to grey and black and white to indicate the darkness over their heads. Indicating an emotionless world and the struggle to move through the heavier moments and eventually hopefully recover. These colours begin to creep in and one tipping point is the involvement of the couple in a help group full of people with similar experiences. This was well chosen as a technique and subtlety and sensitively applied.
I will admit to finding some of the dream sequences a little twee and on the nose. One dream later on in the book has the central character sitting in a rowing boat and holding the string to a heart shaped balloon floating overhead. She then lets the balloon go at the same time I sighed with a small amount of frustration. The book plays in a number of cliches that I found a little trite and uninteresting. There is a danger with books full of extreme emotions to seek gravitas from the cliche and I’m afraid this happens more than once and not in a way that works. The pages (Spoilers ahead folks) where the main character decides she has ‘...made it’ after an acceptance letter arrives from a children’s book publisher seemed a bit daft and more than a little forced in for that ‘Happy Ending’. The events of real life sometimes don’t translate?
Some of the moments are however very well done and for that reason I value the reading experience I had with the book this afternoon. A crying baby forces the woman to hide under the covers or the tear landing on the sadly passed away face of their own baby are incredibly moving and successfully recreated on the page.
The art is good and solid but sadly not on the level of detail and style that I saw from Maurel in the aforementioned Luisa. It may well be a stylistic decision but the world seemed less realised and rich and occasionally I was seeking something more from a panel.
This is a good book and one that I am sure has helped the writer and may others in her circumstances. It may be that I fell foul to the curse of hype and had heard amazing things about this graphic novel that failed to reflect my own experiences. But it is a book with a strong message.
I would also have loved to have seen a helpline or website that the reader could visit to donate to or get support from? Come on Archaia , the characters visit one in the narrative so you can’t be blind to their real life existence?
Many thanks for reading.