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The Motherless Oven

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The Motherless Oven back

Rob Davis


Page 45 Review by Stephen

“The Weather Clock said, “Knife o’clock” so I chained Dad up in the shed.”

It’s for his own protection: Dad’s prone to roam when unsupervised, and if you reckon the weather round yours is abrasive, atrocious, here it can be sharp as hell. Someone has weaponized the weather.

Welcome to a graphic novel that is so wickedly new and so densely inventive that its warped reality and disenfranchisement remind me of early Gorillaz along with their Jamie Hewlett videos. Everything is so very familiar, yet looked at anew or askew or turned on its head. Words may have multiple meanings depending on intonation or a minor adjustment. There are weather clocks issuing knife-storm warnings, and instead of the goggle box there's a Daily Wheel to be sedated by. Plus, teenage Scarper Lee may not remember his birthday but he’s keenly aware of his deathday: it's in three weeks’ time.

Truths are often much more enlightening when seen from a fresher perspective, and you’re in for the mother lode of all three.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, for example, that children are created by their parents, not just through procreation but by osmosis too – by nurture as well as nature – the behaviour of parents rubbing off on their progeny. But what if the reverse were true?

"We were sat on Peter Cake's Mum as usual. Pete's Mum used to be a dinner lady at the school. She had a breakdown in the playground a few months back and no one has come to pick her up yet.”

In THE MOTHERLESS OVEN, you see, children fashion their parents perhaps as murals or mechanical objects, and Pete's Mum had a physical breakdown like any car can, and a mental breakdown like any highly stressed, under-paid, overworked parent trying to provide with a job. The results of both breakdowns are identical. Now she just lies, inert, where she fell, discarded like so much scrap metal.

"Turned out today is the day they tow Pete's Mum away. They'll take her to the Mother Ruins, unless Pete's Dad can get permission for a permanent residence in their front garden. He wants to turn her into an ornamental fountain."

And Scarper Lee’s Dad is a brass, land-bound boat yacht whom he polishes lovingly, meticulously every Sunday while tightening his seals. That opening sentence reads differently now, right?

Scarper Lee isn't a misanthrope. He actually cares. He's just very private and prefers sitting at home. He'd rather not be bothered with people. Then in breezes Vera Pike, the most bothersome girl in the world, and Scarper can't get her out of his head. She's direct, disruptive and completely unfazed by the weather. She'll even go out in a knife storm, carrying a thick wooden pub table over her head like an umbrella, and that’s how she arrives at his door.

Needless to say, at school Vera is immediately shunted off into the deaf unit where all the kids designated ‘special needs’ go - just like Castro, whom she calls her "new toy". Castro has Medicated Inference Syndrome kept in check with a surgically implanted Brain Aid which stops all the signals becoming noise.

"Just watch him go when I turn it all the way up! Ask him a question. Go on, Scarper, ask him anything!"
"Y'alright, mate? Your nose is bleeding! D'you need a tissue?"

I told you he cared. He also yearns for the relief of weekends, like every school teenager:

“Saturday is the day when I feel like I can see the horizon. It's the day that doesn't ask for anything and is happy with what you give it."

That's a fabulous full page: a small-town high street on a sunny day with a thrilling, open perspective. There are shops, snap-frame A boards and Scarper himself, idling along the pavement in a striped jumper and jacket and tight black jeans. You might not even notice the parents being driven down the road.

Davis's designs on the Daily Wheels are well worth close study, but it's his faces and figure work I love most: lithe forms with slim legs; Scarper's bushy hair, bulbous bottom lip and eyebrows as thick as black caterpillars frowning deep over his eyes. The grey, pen-brush washes are warm and soft, while the kitchen-knife storms are stark and sharp and I'm never going to complain about hail again.

As to the inventiveness, it's thoroughly organic. Davis doesn't just drop a pun and run. He rolls an idea out and around in his mind, then sits it spinning in yours, whether it's nature, billboard newspapers, circular history, Castro's Mum or the secret of the Motherless Oven itself.

Here’s Scarper being "reassured" by his headmaster about his impending deathday:

"When I was your age, a classmate of mine faced his deathday in year eleven, just like you. And, just like yours, his deathday was on a Wednesday. I saw him on the morning of his death, stood at the bus stop. His mother was beside him, leaking everywhere. His father, it turned out, was hiding in his pocket.”

So with his own deathday approaching and the clock ticking inexorably on, what will Scarper Lee do with his little time left? Momentum isn’t something he’s ever built up before. He'd probably just stay at home with his Mum and Dad. But he won’t.

I leave you with these unassailable truths:

"They say it's natural for mothers to be protective of their kids. I don't see why. They need protecting as much as we do."

Also: "Mums know more than they let on."

Rob Davis's trilogy continues in THE CAN OPENER'S DAUGHTER and concludes with THE BOOK OF FORKS.