Oct/Nov 2018 Reviews & Interviews

Alone (a graphic novel)

Alone (a graphic novel).
Christophe Chabouté. Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger.
Faber. 2018. 368 pp.
ISBN 978 0 571 33244 1.

Review by Ann Skea

IMAGINATION: n. The ability to form a mental image of fictional or perceived objects or concepts not actually present to the sense. The ability to invent, create or concoct.

Buy now from Amazon! This prefatory definition in Christophe Chabouté's graphic novel, Alone, perfectly describes both Chabouté's skills in this book and those of his main character who has lived alone in a lighthouse for 15 years and has never left the isolated rock on which it is built.

The book is translated from the French, but there is little speech to translate. The pictures alone say almost all that needs to be said. Unlike his earlier graphic novel The Park Bench, which followed the story of a number of people who visited or passed the bench, Alone (apart from one very brief scene) has only three characters—a boatman, his new deckhand, and the hermit, who is the deformed son of the former lighthouse keeper.

With pictures and a few words, Charbouté captures the characters of the boatman and his deckhand, and especially of the hermit. We see the imaginative world in which he lives. We see his habitual occupation of dropping a dictionary onto his table so that it falls open at a single definition. Each definition raises images for him, but they are shaped by his own lack of experience of the outside world: BATTLE: invokes vivid pictures of armies in which the soldiers are dressed and armed like those on a small model of Roman soldiers he owns. CONFETTI: conjures pictures of people throwing Frisbee-sized paper discs.

We see, too, his regular feeding of his only companion—a small fish in a goldfish-bowl. And we see his sensitive response to expressions on the face of the fish. "I'm Sorry," he says when he notices the fish watching him eat a fish he has caught for dinner, and he props up a book so the fish can't see him.

Each week, the boatman and his deckhand drop off supplies for the hermit, but they never see him. The deckhand becomes increasingly curious about him, and one day he secretly leaves a note with the supplies asking if there is anything he wants. The hermit responds with a request for pictures of the world, and along with the hermit, we view the great variety of places, people, and activities—which the deckhand eventually provides, but for which the hermit can only imagine a context. Some of the things, like a bus or a skyscraper, he would never have seen before.

There is humor and pathos in this story. And the final pages leave us wondering what the outcome of the hermits' momentous new decision will be. We can only imagine it.


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