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Charles Burns


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"I'm sorry... I really am. I'm sorry things didn't work out."

This is the sort of work that terrifies me.

It's the nightmare scenario of things being beyond your control: wandering around in your pyjamas, no money to pay for a meal you've just eaten, not knowing where you are or where to go and being alone in the company of deeply unsettling strangers. And that's just the nightmare, the images, thoughts and scenarios that Doug can't shut out in spite of his diminishing number of pills: embryos in eggs, putrescent meat riddled with giant, outraged maggots plucked then gobbled by a cowled figure whose nose appears eaten with syphilis; terrified creatures clinging to driftwood as they're carried helplessly downstream by the rapids. Yes, that's just the nightmare. It seems Doug's real life took a turn for the worse as well.

The book begins with Doug, his features simplified to a Tintin cartoon with two crossed plasters stuck to his temple, waking up in bed not knowing where he is. There's a hole in the far brick wall his black cat climbs through into the darkness beyond. He's sure his cat is supposed to be dead. Doug dons a dressing gown and follows...

When Doug actually wakes up in bed, he still hasn't a clue where he is. His temples have been shaved, giving him the look of a dark-haired Tintin, and a bandage is taped to one side of his skull. Evidence lies on the covers: a basic tape recorder, a graphic novel, a photograph of a girl holding a giant heart to her naked breasts. There's a flick-knife embedded in the heart. The sound of the door buzzer terrifies him. Why? Some of the answers to this series of puzzles - why he perceives himself to look like Tintin in his dream, who the girl in the photograph is, where the hole in the wall came from and why that buzzer might terrify him - are slowly revealed by Doug's memory. But not where the bandage came from, not yet, though one can easily infer.

This, you should be warned before you pick the book up, is but the first instalment of a far longer work, brought out French-stylee in hardcover episodes. The production values are beautiful, unusually for Burns it's in colour, and although he's breaking new personal ground, readers of BLACK HOLE will still be in familiar territory. There are disaffected teens indulging in drugs, alcohol and extreme art projects involving the body; violence threatens to break in from outside, and raging hormones may well prove the source of much trouble. Oh yes, holes. There are lots and lots of holes.
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