Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Wrong Place - Brecht Evens


I'm on some pretty heavy-duty painkillers at the moment, having managed to damage a muscle in my chest (by the extreme sport of sleeping, it seems) so I'm not up for reading anything particularly complex at the moment.  So it was in this mental state that I decided - as I mentioned yesterday - to read my first graphic novel: The Wrong Place by Belgian writer/artist Brecht Evens, sent to me for review by Jonathan Cape months ago.  By the by, I'm not suggesting that graphic novels are less intellectually valid than traditional fiction (although that could be a point of discussion?) but they certainly use fewer clauses, and that was what my brain needed.

Colour me surprised, I absolutely loved it.

What has put me off graphic novels in the past?  Well, initially it was because I thought it meant the other kind of graphic, and was fairly shocked that the bookish types I knew were willingly discussing them.  (And, fair warning, there are a couple of pages in The Wrong Place which could be described under either definition of the word.)  Once I'd realised what they were, it was the aesthetic which alienated me.  Most of the graphic novels I saw in bookshops were stylised like superhero comics, using harsh block colours or manga, which simply didn't appeal.  What drew me to The Wrong Place, and a strong contributory factor in my enjoyment of it, was the aesthetic.  It is created with watercolours, with colours swirling and overlapping.  As the blurb notes, 'parquet floors and patterned dresses morph together' - there is a (presumably deliberate) imprecision to each image which I loved, which helped give the narrative an almost Alice's Adventures in Wonderland surrealism.



The narrative itself is quite simple - it is about charismatic Robbie, with whom everyone wishes to spend time, and his dreary childhood friend Gary.  The book opens with Gary holding a party which Robbie is supposed to attend - everyone asks after him, and waits for him, but he does not come... and then we see him on a night out, exploring secret hallways, dancing in a surreal nightclub... even queuing for his coat is depicted with such energy and colour that it was wholly engaging.


This is a new reading experience for me, and I don't really know the right words to convey it.  Scenes and characters are, naturally, portrayed differently than they would be in a prose novel.  The visual and the verbal work together - and while I have had a lot of practice at describing the effect of words, I wouldn't know where to start with appreciating how a swirl of a paintbrush, or choice of hue, help build up Robbie, Gary, and the others.  Without any narrative voice, the only verbal sections are dialogue - so in some ways it is quite play-like.  I admired this page, which seems perfectly and succinctly to encapsulate an awkward conversation, where someone joins the joke after everyone else, but still wants to prove they understood it, and dominate (I hope this is readable if you click to enlarge it):


So, this 'review' is really just a gesture of enthusiasm, without any real ability to justify that enthusiasm.  I know if I'd read a blog post about a graphic novel, I'd skim straight past it... but I hope you stop and check your local library, and give this a whirl.  Like me, you might well be surprised.


25 comments:

  1. I'm looking for it right now, thanks for the recommendation. I'm a big fan of bookish graphic novels. Persepolis 1 and 2 are fantastic. As well as Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic". All available at the library.

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    1. I had forgotten about Persepolis - I haven't read it, but I've heard good things about it. And thanks for the Bechdel recommendation!

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  2. I own a couple of graphic novels having purchased them because people were talking about them and I wanted to have a good look at them. I also thought they meant serious crime when I first heard the term ' graphic'. I do get put off by the classic ones that look like the super hero powers doing Jane Austen and an Australian author did a bang up job on the Great Gatsby but must say I did not enjoy it as much as I thought. I guess it depends on how much I like the art work and then the story follows? Though that doesn't make a lot of sense it seems to work. Have a great Easter.

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    1. I think it makes sense, Pam! I wouldn't enjoy a graphic novel unless it had artwork which appealed to me.

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  3. First of all, so sorry to hear you've injured yourself! My friend dislocated her shoulder while sleeping last year - it's a dangerous pastime!

    I would have never read a graphic novel or memoir before I started blogging but I have read a few over the last couple of years and have really enjoyed some of them. None, however, had art half as lovely or colourful as this. It looks like a beautiful book.

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    1. Isn't it lovely? It was the colours and style which drew me in, definitely.

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  4. Sorry to hear about the injury, Simon, hope it gets better soon. That does look like a beautiful book. I don't read many graphic novels, but I did enjoy 'Tamara Drew' and 'Gemma Bovary' by Posy Simmonds.
    Meanwhile, I've posted a little (v. easy for those of us who've just re-read 'A View of The Harbour') puzzle on my blog, which I hope will appeal.

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    1. Thanks Sue!

      I'm afraid I was completely stumped by your question... I'm feeling very foolish now...

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    2. Not foolish at all! It wasn't really a very easy question at all, I realise, quite obscure in fact. And thanks for commenting on my blog, where I've now posted the answer.

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  5. Graphic novels, like text novels, are hugely varied in content, style and story, so feel free to go wild looking for ones that might appeal to you.

    But not too wild, until you're over the injury. Take care.

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  6. I'm an expat in Belgium, and I'm on a quest to know as much as possible about the Belgian comics scene. This one looks lovely!

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  7. What a fascinating post. I was convinced I'd never read a graphic novel, until I saw Sue's comment about Posy Simmonds, and realised I'd got the terminology all wrong, because although I enjoyed them I filed them away in my mind as comics... high class comics, but comics nevertheless. It must be an age thing! Does Asterix count as a graphic novel as well?

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    1. I have no idea where the definitional boundaries lie, it is all a bit double Dutch to me!

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  8. I meant to say I hope you feel better soon, but I pressed the button before I'd finished.

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  9. So, how much do you think the pain killers contributed to the enjoyment? Just kidding! Sorry to hear about your injury. I hope that it will mend quickly. Happy Easter to you!

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    1. That is the question, isn't it! Maybe I was like those opium-addled poets of old? But all better now.

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  10. Oh, graphic novels when they are good they are very, very. You must read MAUS. Extraordinary powerful.

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  11. Hope the pain is easing off. I have enjoyed quite a few graphic novels but still find them hard to review. You need a new language, don't you?

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    1. Absolutely. It does also make me realise how similar all my reviews can be, when I suddenly have to branch out.

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  12. Lovely review, and it sounds like a great book. I've learnt about graphic novels entirely from a friend who is also into sci-fi and fantasy and books with embossed covers - which does make me less trusting. But Maus was a revelation to me, and I've also enjoyed Blankets and The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Hope the sore muscle gets better soon.

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    1. Lots more titles I don't know - thank you!

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