Page 45 Review by Stephen
A prize-winning autobiographical work of profound soul searching and tenderness which I'm sure will be loved by fans of Andi Watson's LITTLE STAR, not least because this is partly about fatherhood - or rather, step-fatherhood, and it's about time we had some of those as well.
Fred met Cati at a house party. It was a brief encounter, but enough for her to get into his head and and stay in his heart. Over the years they'd occasionally bump into each other, for she lived below Fred's friend Alex's flat, and he learned she'd got married and had a young son. But when he sees Cati once more sitting alone at one of Alex's New Year's Eve parties, the tide of the party carries him to her side, and they instantly connect. So engrossed in each other are they that the crowd around them grows invisible and silent as their sofa drifts off like a raft in the middle of an ocean...
It's one of those rare dreams come true. That she has a three-year-old son, whom she refers to affectionately as Li'l Wolf, is no impediment. That they're both HIV-positive is a life-changer.
Peeters does an incredible job of conveying how a condition like that infiltrates every part of your life, from the love-making (about which there is much here) to the love itself, but it's Cati's strength when it comes to Li'l Wolf's treatments that provides the revelation:
"Of all the times I had loved, I had never felt real admiration. I'm definitely not talking about fascination or veneration, but this admiration that inspires respect... Like when someone accomplishes something that we recognise, with a pout of the mouth and a shake of the head, that we ourselves would be incapable of... This admiration that gives joy and the desire to offer a hand... In the end, I managed to definitively rid myself of the least trace of that pity that I was carting around like a pebble in my shoe."
As I said, it's a book that also meditates on moving into an already established family unit, with a young boy who is not your biological son, but whom you love, who grows to love you, but who needs discipline as well as care and has moments of understandable confusion especially after visits to this actual Dad. Frederick's eloquence is as ever admirably up to the task, visually and verbally:
"I think in the end I let myself be guided by him... I let him play with the tiller, out of fear of forcing too narrow a view of things... and, in fact, our relationship evolves according to circumstances and his own initiatives...
"Like this one afternoon in Spring, when Cati's apartment was full of people... Strangers to him... For the first time, he came and attached himself to me on his own... as though it were nothing... I sensed that I had become a kind of emotional reference point in his life... It was moving... innocuous and heavily changed with meaning at the same time."
Peeters' brush strokes are fluid and broad, the panel borders undulating around Cati's beautiful, big, lashed eyes, Li'l Wolf's wild and wondering expressions and Frederick's own adoring gaze. There are so many beautiful images inside: rain on a lake across from the trees; or late at night, house lights glowing on the inky water. It's an inspiration, to say the least, and a perfect evocation of romance.