Page 45 Review by Stephen
"IMAGINATION n. The ability to form a mental image of fictional or perceived objects or concepts not actually present to the senses. The ability to invent, create, or concoct."
With that definition, this book begins.
If it were Chabouté blowing his own trumpet, I would not begrudge him, but it isn't. Both its form and its content constitute a very clever conceit at the heart of this work, which only someone as sharp as Chabouté could possibly have invented, created or concocted and then controlled by the astute observation that that which has never been observed may be subject to an even wilder imagination.
It's first signalled by an initially baffling "BOOM!" resounding from the top of an otherwise silent lighthouse.
From the creator of THE PARK BENCH which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, this UK edition of an earlier work is almost as wordless, this time because it stars a lifetime loner living a solitary existence in a lighthouse surrounded by sea, and two men on a boat whose taciturn skipper does not encourage conversation.
Regardless, there is absolutely no substitute for slowly turning a sequence of Chabouté's elegant and eloquently orchestrated pages, like the first sixteen here showing a choppy ocean swept over by a seagull before finally alighting on a corroded iron railing, only to be battered off by a crashing wave. It flies higher above the sea-bashed rocks, circling and circling the single, beacon-topped tower until it reaches railings far safer, around the giant lantern itself. Then "BOOM!" Something is happening inside.
The sun sets. Time passes. You've just passed page sixteen and if you adore sequential art, you will already be in love with this book. However, we have only just begun...
A small trawler approaches the lighthouse rock from afar. It moors up against the concrete quay. A couple of crates are unloaded. The skipper shouts at his new employee to hurry it up. What could possibly be the rush? The boat casts off again, the skipper barking more complaints. It's no wonder the other guy keeps his own council. Until days later, upon a return visit, he can no longer contain his curiosity about the boxes, suspecting his skipper of smuggling, drugs-running or money laundering.
"They're supplies. Food!
"I leave boxes there every week. Been doing it for years."
They stare up at the lantern.
"He was born there.
"His mother gave birth in the lighthouse...
"He lived with his parents. His father was the keeper.
"His mother died first.
"And then, fifteen years ago, when his father died...
"The kid preferred to stay in there. Well... kid... he was thirty-five then. He must be fifty or so now....
"The guy's never set foot on land."
No one's ever seen him, either. He only fishes with a line once the coast is clear.
"BOOM!" We see leafy boughs.
"BOOM!" a stallion is startled, and stampedes.
"BOOM!" a centaur in gladiator gear rears up and glares out from under the shadow of his helmet menacingly.
What on earth are those sequences doing there?! I'm not going to tell you.
It's worth studying the window ledge though, when you find out, for the few found objects of flotsam and jetsam that have washed up on the quay or perhaps been hooked on the fishing line. Then, when there are wonkier sequences still...
Oh, it's so clever!
There's plenty of tension from time to time, but also a great deal of humour. For example, those wonky sequences, but also this: the recluse's only companion is a goldfish in a goldfish bowl. Yes, he is surrounded by fish and surrounded by water, yet he keeps a goldfish in water. On the poignant side, it too is living a solitary existence, isolated from the rest of the world, imprisoned, but it isn't aware of its situation, so doesn't know what it's missing.
Infer what you will for what follows.
There's a superb use of silhouette and contour, and an echoing spiral staircase, a very high tide which serves to emphasise the confinement, and a kindness which may prove anything but.