Page 45 Review by Stephen
An exhilarating, fast-moving, heart-palpitating gala performance, I hereby fill the auditorium with thunderous applause!
Songs sung aside, it's a largely wordless graphic novel full of exotic sights, dextrous dances and so many sounds in which Elisabeth is adopted by a creative community of burlesque cabaret artists who are as supportive and nurturing off stage as they are flamboyant, inventive and cheeky. Got to love a lyric like this:
"My love button's poking
"Its head out for a stroking!"
That would be your gently suggested adults-only advisement, for this features a glorious amount of equal-opportunities full-frontal nudity which is absolutely essential to its celebratory message about being proud of your body.
Alas, it'll take Elisabeth a long and emotionally tumultuous journey to get there, but get there she shall!
"If you cannot look at me anymore,
"I do not want to see you anymore!"
The beginning is blunt and quite brutal for our protagonist, who wakes up in a hospital bed, clothed in a clinical gown, her head shaved, her energy depleted, and one breast missing post-mastectomy. Frantically searching the ward in a flurry of motion, Betty demands her old boob back. The nipple-ringed breast is retrieved, presented to her in a gift-wrapped, ribboned box and lovingly admired by both patient and nurse. But in the box it stays, and you won't discover its final fate until late into the graphic novel. Instead, Elisabeth is immediately determined to move on and adjust as best she can, dressing herself up smartly, applying make-up and a wig and marching her frazzled man back home. Yes, her lover has passed out in shock twice already.
Oh so positively, she dolls herself up further, while he uncorks wine, and dances twirling back into the living room, a rosy red apple popped into the cup of her bra. A tender kiss later and there's a love-heart and laughter and everything seems to be going so much better...
But then - although there are ever so many more ups and downs yet to come - the most poignant moment for me is almost immediately afterwards, when the man, after inviting her into the bed with a reassuring pat on the sheets, kisses Elisabeth not on the lovingly presented and puckered lips, but on the forehead. Alarmed, she reaches out, but he lunges for the lamp, switches it off and rolls over, leaving her alone on the very far side of the bed.
Already the individuals' moods have been colourfully controlled with lots of rich reds and fresh, healthy creams, but also back in the ward with queasy greens and more sickly yellows for when our male visitor becomes instead the passed-out patient, and needs to have his own blood pressure taken!
Now the graphic novel grows even more satirical, for where do you suppose she works? Elisabeth is a cashier at a parfumier which is so upmarket that its central chandelier cascades with crystals, spotlit from above. Security cameras are trained on the department floor to search out shoplifters, for sure, but so many are trained on the staff too, with close-ups on their chests, and these screens are overseen by a Cruella Deville-like lady with enormous, dangling, dollar-sign earrings. The shop assistants, meanwhile, are all decked out in t-shirts adorned by the retailer's logo, which is a symmetrical, stylised heart as if mounted on a pedestal. This, of course, sits over their supposedly symmetrical breasts - wouldn't you just know it? - that company's contract stipulates that all employees must have "two boobs" (each of a certain weight!) otherwise it is "termination" time.
I wouldn't call it too much of stretch to call this corporation somewhat superficial.
Our obsession with symmetry (I only ever had one dagger earring on the left; now one eyebrow ring instead) is part of the heart of this story. Wait until Liz's lover returns home, the maid immediately spotting his one-sided parting and correcting it with a comb in a corridor which is improbably symmetrical in its ornaments, before presenting him to his parents! They are not amused (nor are their two dogs) for kerfuffle that causes their mirrored seating arrangements is extreme!
We've only just begun - Elisabeth has a lot of chaotic leaping and running round to do, initially after her wig which takes to the wing - but I'm still going to leave it there.
Golly, but there's a lot of energy on offer, so much sweeping movement and gay abandon, from arms outstretched and tassled tits a-twisting to robes flying high and flung off, and the gesticulations during the dazzling routines are thrilling (Elisabeth's contrastingly tentative to begin with, but once her confidence is boosted, she'll get there). Red wine will be drunk and high heels will be kicked off, for there are far happier times ahead.
"No body is perfect, Elisabeth" is a chapter I loved dearly - if you love female forms in particular in all their diversity, you are in for a spellbinding treat - along with this sentiment towards the end:
"What are you doing now?"
"Whatever I want."
Before we conclude, however, I highly recommend Jennifer Hayden's autobiographical THE STORY OF MY TITS, which in spite of its most excellent title is a lot less glib than it looks. Much considered thought with some considerable scope, Hayden comes to terms with a double-mastectomy, and covers to much that led up to it and what follows.