Page 45 Review by Stephen
A honey buzzard, perched on a post and alert to its surroundings, stares up over its back and into the sky.
Its attention darts forward, then down. In the silence it considers its distracted prey.
"BLOODY HELL, LAURA!"
The honey buzzard takes fright and flight.
"Why won't you listen to me?"
It's Simon who isn't listening.
My guess is this'll grab you on its first three pages. If not, I give it no more than the eighth and ninth as Simon angrily presses his cell phone's red button, sits there fuming inside his van, then drives over a railway crossing into dense woodland, and darkness. Ancient trees, some spawning fungus, tower over the small van. When Simon stops, it's outside a sequestered cabin. His face stays in shadow, silhouetted against the sky, as he enters.
Simon flicks on a switch, and there are books. There are so many books - some in boxes, some scattered across the floor, others stacked high upon shelves. Simon takes one specific book down and sits crossed-legged on the bare wooden floor and is transported back twenty years to when he was at secondary school, happily reading the same bird guide. Almost immediately the cell phone intrudes again. A picture of his wife Laura appears, smiling. Feeling harassed, he rejects the call. In contrast to his younger self he now appears scruffy, weary. Piling boxes of books into the back of the van, his eyes are already wide - no longer angry but harrowed, haunted - and he drives as if in a stupor.
But after what happens at that same railway crossing on his way back - after the gate goes down and he's left there idling, and the woman appears at edge of the trees - Simon's state of stupefaction will be close to catatonic.
Its atmosphere already established, this won't let you or Simon go until it's done. De Jongh's body language is impeccable, very physical, and her expressions maintain an intensity whether vulnerable or fearful or resentful and angry.
Anger, fear and vulnerability rage through this debut graphic on every front presented to us: past and present, personal and professional, increasingly driven by guilt. Inaction is an action in and of itself, and gnawing regret, which can come creeping in waves, rarely recedes forever.
So much about the construction impresses me: Simon's past and present dual traumas aren't perfect parallels for that would be lazy. Instead they twist on each other in such clever ways about which I can only confer with you in private once you have read this. One key element is constant, however, and there are additional pressures at play which reduce Simon's ability to resist unravelling.
Then there are the visual details, un-signposted, like books gradually disappearing from display as Simon's life empties of hope.
If I hadn't already doffed my cap to De Jongh, it would be off again in a second for one particular and ever so satisfying sleight of hand which passed over my head exactly as it should have done.