Friday, June 25, 2010

Five Wounds: Review in 'The Spit Press'

The Spit Press is 'Sydney's Creative Newspaper', aimed at readers who work in, or are interested in, the creative industries. Their latest issue has a review of Five Wounds by James Scott on p. 20. It's a bit difficult to locate the text in the online version, so I have copied it below. But do check out the rest of the newspaper: it offers a unique perspective on life in Sydney.

Graphic Novels, Not Just for Geeks?

Five Wounds by Jonathan Walker and Dan Hallett is atmospheric, grotesque, thrilling and tender. Certainly unlike anything else we've ever stumbled upon, this illustrated novel is a disturbing delight. Book lover James Scott had a read.

With a beautiful hardcover this 'illuminated novel' is a fantastic book to plonk on your lap in any public place, even if only to enjoy the sideways glances of passersby who seem to suspect you might at any moment turn to them, eyes dark, and incant at them in some frightening, grunting language.

Upon opening the book I was startled and initially annoyed by what at first struck me as a pretentious and over the top way to lay out the text. That is, rather like 'The Bible', complete with verse numbers. However before long, I was totally won over by the hypnotic and addictive rhythm that reads almost like poetry.

The story is set in an imaginary Venice and chronicles the complicated intrigues of five disfigured protagonists. Gabriella is a mutilated angel who struggles to decipher her prophetic dreams. Cur is a rabid `Romulus' and aquaphobe, who knows nothing other than the cult of canine mercenaries and the ghetto in which he was raised. Cuckoo is an orphan, obsessed with chance and cards, who can reshape his wax face (less weird in context than it sounds here) to resemble another's, however cannot smile without a mirror, a candle and some time. Magpie is a sickly thief and photographer, who fears direct light for blindness and yearns for a model to surrender to him completely. Undoubtedly my favourite however is Crow; a leper alchemist. Deliciously reprehensible, Crow is ruthless and fantastically clever in pursuing his extremely ambitious goals. The stories and studies of these characters intertwine with increasing intricacy as the novel builds to an immensely exciting, haunting, heartbreaking and ultimately satisfying conclusion.

The depiction of this alternative Venice is dreamy and surreal, but the author paints a world that feels completely authentic. The illuminations by Dan Hallett are a joy, and bring a lot to the book. Sometimes striking and colourful, and at other times comical and cartoonish, they reinforce the idea that this is a fairy tale for grown ups.

The writing is extremely capable and the author cleverly uses patterns and shapes modeled not only on The Good Book but also on Grimm's Fairy Tales to give the story a familiar feel that plays well against the darkness of the plot and the sometimes slightly uncomfortable, but impressive depth in characterisation. Five Wounds is also saturated with references, saturated.

All in all, a very handsome book and a story that is symphonic in its poetry, breadth and cohesion. It is tempting to think that the author lives by the same motto as one of his characters; "Either Ceasar, or nothing."

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