Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"The director is busy finishing up your paperwork. She asked me to show you around."
"Uh, she also said that you need to pay a ten-dollar document processing fee. It's complicated. You wouldn't understand."
"I was a bank manager."
"Oh yeah? Well, it's a standard charge for all new arrivals. A silly thing.
"Perfecto! If you need anything, let me know. I can get you whatever you want.
I'll show you around.
"There are two floors
here on the first floor are the healthy ones
those of us who can look after ourselves
more or less.
"Almost everyone here still has their wits about them. Maybe not as sharp as before. But we can think a little."
Multiple-award-winning heartbreak from Spanish creator Paco Roca on the touching subject of descent into dementia. I knew this was going to be a very bitter-sweet read and so it proved.
I think if there is one way out of this life that I really don't want to have to endure it is losing my marbles, and thus with it, all semblance of dignity. Extreme physical pain wouldn't be fun clearly, but at least one would be present. On the other hand, as Paco demonstrates with some beautifully tender daydream sequences, not entirely knowing what's approaching seems for some a fairly peaceful meander towards expiration
"Excuse me. Is this seat taken?"
"Are you going to Instanbul also?"
"The mountains are so beautiful in the springtime."
Our main character, the distinguished Emilio, finds himself parked in an assisted living facility by his family, caring as they are, and at the tender mercies of his new roommate, the caddish Miguel, who may well have had a career as a conman, given the way he blatantly perpetuates his various cash-collecting schemes on his unsuspecting vulnerable fellow residents. With no family of his own, he professes love and loyalty to no one. Though, as our story progresses and Emilio finds himself becoming gradually more confused, it's Miguel who steps up to protect Emilio from himself, and the dreaded, inevitable one-way trip up to the second floor
I really enjoyed this work and I can well understand why it was made into a critically acclaimed animated film, voiced by Martin Sheen and Matthew Modine, a few years ago. It has a poignancy running throughout that will inevitably get you choked up, particularly a sequence where it's explained to Emilio precisely why he is in the facility. It's an absolute revelation to him and shatters the very bedrock of his existence beyond repair. From that point on, as the story focuses more and more on his inevitable decline, and Miguel's ever more ingenious and crafty means of hiding it from the attentions of the staff, I found myself welling up.
There's also a subplot which, as the rear cover blurb states, has echoes of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, albeit very mild ones, as some of the inmates plot a dramatic escape. The blurb also draws a comparison to the wonderful mid-eighties, Oscar-winning film Cocoon directed by Ron Howard, but I can't make that connection myself, as we know there aren't going to be any little green men whisking Emilio off for an implausible happy ending. But despite that, it's a surprisingly uplifting read as we gradually see that love of every kind can thrive in even the most unusual and trying of circumstances.
Paco's art matches his gentle storytelling, at times making me feel like he's a softened version of I.N.J. Culbard. It's a very soothing style, and I could feel myself being lulled into a rather relaxed frame of mind, much like the sedated and sedentary residents, most of whom simply sit around waiting for the inevitable, lost in their own imaginary worlds which Paco brings to life so convincingly for them, and us.