Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Drawn and Quarterly)

Beautiful Darkness. Do not judge this one by its cover, this is definitely not kids stuff!


My children's book-reviewing alter ego is quite used to seeing books that feature magical folk or princesses, anthropomorphic animals and other cutesy-pie stuff. For a brief moment, from the corner of your eye or your peripheral vision you might mistakenly believe that "Beautiful Darkness" is a book that belongs on my daughter's shelf rather than mine. Aside, that is, from that David Lynch-like presence sharing the cover with Aurora, the tiny hero of this tale. A corpse. A human corpse.

Worst of all, the corpse of a little girl. "Beautiful Darkness" (recently reviewed enticingly on BoingBoing) takes all the traditional fairy-tale tropes, puts them in a washing machine with a ton of barbed wire and some animal guts, and puts the whole lot on a high spin-speed. The result is one of the darkest and most visceral fairy tales I've ever read.

 The graphic novel starts with idyllic scenes of Aurora, and the rather annoying and uppity Prince Hector enjoying an afternoon tea party. Aurora is dreaming, but when she awakes we see her world unfold. The aforementioned corpse is relegated to little more than a backdrop, a scenery prop and as harrowing as this sounds, it's actually this aspect of the novel that would have me hiding it away in a cupboard so my own little girl didn't see it until she's a moody teen.

Seeing a human being featuring in this way is quite startling and disturbing, particularly when you see the lives of the tiny folk who accompany Aurora happening in complete oblivion to this tragic set of circumstances. Vehlmann and Kerascoet boil the bones of fairy tales until the rich gelatine is extracted and spread thickly like an opaque haze over the story as it emerges.

Aurora's 'friends' are definitely not cute in any way, preoccupied with the more human-like struggles for sustenance and peer acceptance. Aurora's main rival in love is the bitch queen from hell, a doll-like would-be princess who is as predatory and vicious as any of the wildlife living in the woodland glade where the story takes place.

Dialogue is purposely child-like, fairy-tale-like - but all the urges and passions of this tiny group of characters are as dark and blood red as the human world's. Aurora is also misleadingly sweet and the book leads to a conclusion that will simultaneously fill you with the urge to shout "YESSSS!" at the top of your voice, but will also fill you with dark horror as revenge is exacted in a brutal way. I cannot recommend "Beautiful Darkness" highly enough if you're looking for something that feels wholly original, desperately darkly tinged and extremely grown up without resorting to the usual graphic novel excesses of sex and violence (though don't get me wrong - it most certainly is quite icky in places).

 Please though, if you have an inquisitive 6 year old kicking around at home, don't let them loose on this unless you want to spend the next few weeks dealing with their nightmares. Title: Beautiful Darkness Author(s): Vehlmann and Kerascoet Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly Format: Graphic Novel / Hardback

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Drawn and Quarterly)

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Beautiful Darkness. Do not judge this one by its cover, this is definitely not kids stuff!


My children's book-reviewing alter ego is quite used to seeing books that feature magical folk or princesses, anthropomorphic animals and other cutesy-pie stuff. For a brief moment, from the corner of your eye or your peripheral vision you might mistakenly believe that "Beautiful Darkness" is a book that belongs on my daughter's shelf rather than mine. Aside, that is, from that David Lynch-like presence sharing the cover with Aurora, the tiny hero of this tale. A corpse. A human corpse.

Worst of all, the corpse of a little girl. "Beautiful Darkness" (recently reviewed enticingly on BoingBoing) takes all the traditional fairy-tale tropes, puts them in a washing machine with a ton of barbed wire and some animal guts, and puts the whole lot on a high spin-speed. The result is one of the darkest and most visceral fairy tales I've ever read.

 The graphic novel starts with idyllic scenes of Aurora, and the rather annoying and uppity Prince Hector enjoying an afternoon tea party. Aurora is dreaming, but when she awakes we see her world unfold. The aforementioned corpse is relegated to little more than a backdrop, a scenery prop and as harrowing as this sounds, it's actually this aspect of the novel that would have me hiding it away in a cupboard so my own little girl didn't see it until she's a moody teen.

Seeing a human being featuring in this way is quite startling and disturbing, particularly when you see the lives of the tiny folk who accompany Aurora happening in complete oblivion to this tragic set of circumstances. Vehlmann and Kerascoet boil the bones of fairy tales until the rich gelatine is extracted and spread thickly like an opaque haze over the story as it emerges.

Aurora's 'friends' are definitely not cute in any way, preoccupied with the more human-like struggles for sustenance and peer acceptance. Aurora's main rival in love is the bitch queen from hell, a doll-like would-be princess who is as predatory and vicious as any of the wildlife living in the woodland glade where the story takes place.

Dialogue is purposely child-like, fairy-tale-like - but all the urges and passions of this tiny group of characters are as dark and blood red as the human world's. Aurora is also misleadingly sweet and the book leads to a conclusion that will simultaneously fill you with the urge to shout "YESSSS!" at the top of your voice, but will also fill you with dark horror as revenge is exacted in a brutal way. I cannot recommend "Beautiful Darkness" highly enough if you're looking for something that feels wholly original, desperately darkly tinged and extremely grown up without resorting to the usual graphic novel excesses of sex and violence (though don't get me wrong - it most certainly is quite icky in places).

 Please though, if you have an inquisitive 6 year old kicking around at home, don't let them loose on this unless you want to spend the next few weeks dealing with their nightmares. Title: Beautiful Darkness Author(s): Vehlmann and Kerascoet Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly Format: Graphic Novel / Hardback
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