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Water Memory

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Water Memory back

Mathieu Reynes & Valerie Vernay


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"Hi! I'm Marion!
"I'm your new neighbour."

Whenever you move into a new home, it's good to greet the neighbours - especially if they're few and far between. They can be a bit of a worry, can't they? An unknown quantity, until you get to know them.

And on this crystal clear morning, her second full day on the Brittany coast, that is precisely what young Marion is doing as she strolls along the grass-green cliff tops, the breeze blowing in her hair. The neighbours are all a lot older than she is and understandable more than a little weather-worn. They're standing stones, after all.

Some of the menhirs are more impressive than others and of course the less ancient locals have left their own marks with arrow-pierced hearts and initials: evidence of innocent childhood crushes or trysts. There also appear to have been more elaborate carvings on some: amphibian, fish-like faces or masks, only with both eyes facing front.

"It looks like this one's still growing!
"What are you all looking at?"

They are staring out to sea...

Reynès & Vernay had me hooked from the start: pages and pages of perfectly pitched, companionable dialogue as we make the acquaintance of Marion and her mother Annick while they explore then settle into their new surroundings. These hold but the vaguest of memories for Marion's Mum who hasn't been back here since she was four. They're shown around by kindly Suzanne, an old friend of Marion's grandparents, married to Antoine who spent his life on the waves, skippering a fishing boat like Marion's long deceased grandfather.

Evidently at that point Annick's mother moved away, for the house hasn't been lived in for thirty years.

It is ever so idyllically situated on a tall, sheltered outcrop overlooking the bay, and Vernay makes the most of the view, filling it with movement and light.

Seagulls surf the sea breeze, directing our gaze to the lighthouse rising above a small, adjacent cottaqe on an island not far from the shore. Beyond lies the fishing village itself, a yawning stretch of bright blue sky between billowing, sunlit clouds funnelling our attention there too.

Later there's the wind in the washing, and a wave-break of white flowers flowing through the standing stones. The town itself is flooded with local individuality: old whitewashed houses with exterior, half-timbered upper storeys, a restaurant on the quayside where Annick finds work, and a mightily thick stone wall evidently erected to buffer the residents from the worst of any storms. Against it has been erected a small drinking fountain with that same, curious mask sculpted in semi-relief. One G. Norman has placed an inconspicuous brass plaque to its left:

"En Mémoire des disparus du 02 février 1904"

It's the date of the last great storm.

If you're beginning to feel a certain chill in the air, at the heart of this gripping Young Adult graphic novel lies a mystery which may or may not contain a dark, fantastical element. Regardless, it certainly involves local legends of appeasing and emphatically not displeasing sea spirits, and those in the past (and perhaps present) who have believed these myths, become obsessed then undone by them. It stretches back generations and across families as it would in any closely knit community, and unfortunately once Marion has its scent, she simply cannot let go.

Its other heart lies in the relationship between Marion and her mother, its driving force any young person's natural instinct and compulsion to explore. Their first evening, before their furniture, linen and crockery have arrived, sees them enjoying a sunset picnic together outside and the light there too is just-so. Marion's Dad, we infer, will not be joining them but their bond is all the stronger for that, and the scene is brought to a close with their thoughts firmly thrust to the future.

Sure enough, on her very first morning, Marion cannot resist the thrilling novelty of it all! Brought up in a city, and you suddenly have private, sandy beaches directly below your doorstep...? A dip in the sea is most definitely required! Have I mentioned the light? At every moment Vernay is in complete control of the temperature through body language and colour.

As Marion ventures tentatively further out from the shore, she spies a boat on the horizon with an outboard motor heading towards the lighthouse. She calls out and waves but although water carries sound, that engine is evidently making more.

The lighthouse has its own lure, obviously, especially after Marion discovers it might be accessible at low tide. The small gate barring access to the steps which lead down to the beach has a No Entry sign but if it's left unlocked, that sign can't really be that important, can it? You wouldn't leave a gate open if access was dangerous.

The thing is, tides can come in a great deal faster than they go out, and there's an episode Reynès wisely wrote in earlier which won't leave you head once you've read it, ramping up the tension to shoulder-knotting heights.

It begins on Day 3, when Marion spies seagulls squalling noisily round a fissure in the stone, close to the bay where she's begun bathing. Gingerly she makes her way in, wading through knee-deep water, the warmth of the sunlight quickly giving way to an echoing chill, the only blue glow coming from the sea round her feet.

What has excited the seagulls is dead and repulsive, with milky eyes and an army of tiny, sharp teeth. But what's discovered above it would prove all too distracting for anyone.

There's a wealth of preparatory work and unused art in the back including some spectacular, tsunami-wave storm scenes of biblical proportions but before you get there you can also look forward to: fish beaching themselves en masse; more strange carvings with dates and initials; family revelations; a thick chain clanking ominously against a well's iron grate; blinding sea fog, one man's forever haunted eyes, and elderly Suzanne looking as though she were drawn by Nick Park.

Note: this has been translated, yes - quite often it's easier to find interior art in a book's original language.
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