Page 45 Review by Stephen
With nocturnal landscapes and diurnal seascapes lit to perfection as the sun rises, peaks, then falls slowly below the horizon, this silent story about straying off course - physically, metaphorically, environmentally - is as beautiful to behold as it is epic in its undulating, up-and-down fortunes.
It is also witty in its wealth of allegiances forged unexpectedly, comically, from the most unpropitious circumstances (seagulls, sea pirates, cruise-liner cooks and the Cuban high military command).
But more than anything else, it's one of the most romantic books I have ever read, moving in its marital devotion, steadfast loyalty and the determination to succeed in being reunited against all oceanic odds imaginable.
It's not a new formula in any medium or genre: swiftly establish unbreakable bonds between two loving souls (thereby investing your readers emotionally in the prosperity of their relationship) then almost immediately tear that couple apart - please see HABIBI, for a start. It's cruel, but from that point on, we are hooked, desperate for the lost lovers to rediscover each other.
But that bait is far more difficult to judge then securely tether for the long haul than it looks, and this is a very long haul indeed, most of it spent by both all at sea, sometimes heading in different directions.
Are you ready, my lovers? Then we shall begin.
Early one morning while it is still dark, an old fisherman switches on the bedside table lamp and pops on his glasses. So thick are their lenses that they magnify his bulging myopic eyes, and he looks like Mr Magoo. This is a cue in itself: things, they are gonna go wrong!
Stretching and yawning, he is greeted downstairs by a nutritious and filling, steaming, savoury French pancake stuffed with ham, cheese and a fresh, broken egg prepared by his doting wife, up even earlier, who is decked out in a pristine black dress and laced white apron, tied at the back with a great big bow, a tiny chef's hat balanced on her barnet.
None of this is random narrative, not the lace, the galette, its nutrition and sustenance, its expert execution or the early-morning effort. Each individual element is preparation for what will follow, exceptionally economical in its foundations, for we are only on page two of (*flips ahead*) two hundred and twenty pages plus!
Coffee is served before an old transistor radio crackles out the weather forecast: it's going to be all over the shop! The old man's missus, who's actually a lot heartier than he is, dutifully packs him a day's supply of food including a tin of sardines (as seen on the cover) which he quite evidently cannot abide. We will be seeing many more of those cans in the future. Not in this review, but I promise you this: plot points!
He showers and she glowers over clothes strewn with abandon all over the bathroom floor. Comedic pratfalls bring them back together, then she sees him off on what is evidently no more than a daily routine, but which will today prove a much bigger journey than either could possibly imagine.
We're on page eleven now. How much more do I tell you? How profoundly do you trust me?
I thought this would be fun. Actually, I knew this would be fun, but I had absolutely no idea how much. It hurt not one jot that the figures and expressions are so exquisitely drawn with all the cartooning exuberance of Kyle Baker. It's wordless, remember: key communicative skills, ahoy!
But way beyond that, each misstep, each misfortune, each rallying effort, each ingenuity and absolutely every unexpected public triumph of the very private, humble, unassuming, financially poor and self-sacrificial yet resolute wife is riveting, awe-inspiring and emotionally rewarding. I was a bit moved, yes.
You will witness a tiny private fishing boat which can't even catch a crab - only a boot, rusted can and a tiddler -- bludgeoned by a trawler so vast that its looks like a pleasure cruise liner. You will witness an actual pleasure cruise liner and its pampered, modern, rich residents wowed by traditional skills. You'll encounter that very real, horrific floating island of plastic rubbish that soils our seas known as the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, oil spills, and a beer-can six-pack binder strangling a seagull. Always snip 'em, folks, so hedgehogs don't pop their heads through too, because otherwise it's a noose!
Also on offer: the ludicrously detailed image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara appearing within a pancake as a holy sign, just like the Virgin Mary bobs up in an apple core or latte froth. Fidel Castro makes two guest appearances too.
Actually that beer-can six-pack plastic binder strangling a seagull proved to be the genesis of the best allegiance of all. It begins as an extended sequence of comedic to-and-fro as our fisherman strives to free the exhausted bird, offers it some restorative sardines afterwards, then throws the empty can overboard. The seagull will ensure he regrets that.
The seagull's expressions are to die for, and that specific relationship is beautifully reprised on the final few pages.