Page 45 Review by Stephen
Whoever you are, whenever you are, and whatever events have transpired for you to be reading this, I just want to begin by saying that, like everything I have ever made, this book is a reaction to circumstance - the reflexive yelp after stubbing a toe; the burst of laugher upon hearing a good joke; the irrepressible cry of relief after having, once more, dragged myself back from the well.
- Emit Hopper 04/03/14"
Emit Hopper is the protagonist, and those are the first words you'll read.
The date's in American, though that matters not one jot for the purpose of this review.
For a start, it is compromised by my having read a mere 65 of 450 pages and only begun to absorb half of its 106 predominantly double-page landscape illustrations in Indian ink - line and wash - on watercolour paper.
I can assure you that I will be drinking those in for many months to come, while absorbing the prose as fast as I am able then issuing a more rounded review. But I am a very slow reader and there is some degree of urgency here.
For a start, this is the latest from the great Paul Madonna whose illustration-driven, snap-shot narratives I first discovered in the form of ALL OVER COFFEE while browsing through an exceptionally personable independent bookstore in the Castro District of San Francisco. You won't find Madonna in 99.9% of comic shops, no, for he is distributed exclusively by Ingram in America.
Secondly on the snooze-you-lose front, I see that - at the time of typing - a mere week after publication there are just 150 copies of a total print run of 5,000 left for sale on the western seaboard of America which is all we'll ever have access to. The west coast is understandably better served: Paul Madonna is, deservedly, a very big name in San Francisco.
His second, architecture-orientated album EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD was also set there, as was his first foray into illustrated prose, a slimmer, wit-ridden socio-political satire very much in the vein of early Evelyn Waugh complete with helpless and hapless naïf buffeted about by insane circumstances and ever so slightly surreal forces beyond his control called ON TO THE NEXT DREAM.
This too is bountifully illustrated prose, but after a mere 65 pages of this 450-page epic it is already clear that this is a far more involved, profound and exotic beast than ON TO THE NEXT DREAM which I had read in full before that review and which I rate very highly indeed.
Half of it appears to take place - or have taken place - in Thailand.
So imagine what that does for the illustrations.
The endpapers alone tantalise with a path leading down a higgledy-piggeldy, hand-railed bank of bamboo steps towards an enclosure defined by a barricade of bamboo stakes and wooden planks, and a lychgate-like aperture: a gate off the latch and ajar, leading through to heaven knows where?
So many other drawings portray steps and bridges which beg the same question; as well as lush fronds, carvings and sculpture.
If I were to define this based on what I have read so far, I'd call it a mystery: a mystery for us and a mystery for its level-headed protagonist, Emit Hopper, who may not be immune to the impulse or foolhardy.
An acclaimed American author who once left his readers believing that he might well be dead, Emit Hopper's star is now once more in the ascendance following his revival in Japan. He gave up the musical, literary and celebrity ghost voluntarily two decades ago in favour of running his own quiet, simple, virtually anonymous laundromat service. But his past is far more convoluted than that and his future suggests complications.
"As he's drawn back into the limelight he meets Julia, a former celebrity chef with a dark past. But when she disappears while hiking with two other women, Emit finds himself chasing down a mystery that promises to leave him forever changed."
The thing is this: Julia wasn't the first woman in his life to go travelling, or missing. Many years ago, there was Marie.
Now I know a review from us, whom I do hope you trust, without being in complete command of the facts is something of a risk, especially when you're contemplating coughing up over thirty quid. I don't think I've ever published one before.
All I can tell you is this: I am currently engaged in my second immediate read-through of Yuval Noah Harari's 'Sapiens', as well as on the cusp of completing Fredrik Backman's equally exceptional 'A Man Called Ove' prose fiction on top of all the glorious sequential art I need to read and review weekly... and I cannot put this down. I've read it as fast and as furiously as I can because it will not let me do otherwise, and because I wanted to give you some taster before copies run out on us forever. Paul Madonna is massive at Page 45.
So here's another thread: Emit has an identical twin. The way Madonna describes their relationship is perfect. It's like they lived is glass houses: they are transparent to each other at least, However opaque most of us are to others we love - however many deeply absorbing, meandering conversations it takes us to burrow beneath those surfaces and get a good glimmer of the real light within - Emit and his brother did everything instinctively together as one because, really, they were.
And then, two decades ago, with his brother riding high on Chinese-soap-opera-superstardom, everything between them abruptly went dark when his brother's unexpected mental illness set in, and an extra shroud or curtain was pulled down on top.
Imagine that level of almost unique, intuitive communication blacked out.
Twenty years ago Emit wrote a novel:
"It was called 'Glass Houses'. An allegorical story about the loneliness and isolation that comes from having to watch a brother shatter into a pile of broken shards, and not be able to do anything about it."
All I can give you is pieces of a puzzle which I've yet to solve.
But, in a way, that is the purest pitch possible.