Sunday, 10 August 2014

Pachyderme by Frederik Peeters Review

Here’s the thing about Pachyderme: it’s a really good comic but it’s also weird and abstract and right there and then there are people reading those two words and immediately switching off after deciding this book isn’t for them - and I don’t want to turn people away from this kind of comic just because it’s a little different. It’s totally accessible, it’s definitely engrossing, and it’s a real page-turner. So long as you’re ok not knowing exactly what’s happening at all times and can go with the flow, you’ll get a lot out of this small book. 

A woman leaves her car in a traffic jam in the country after discovering a dead elephant is blocking the road. She has to get to the nearby hospital because her husband has been in a terrible car accident. She traverses the forest to reach the hospital and discovers that she can’t find her husband. As she makes her way through this increasingly Kafka-esque place, she’ll meet an alcoholic surgeon who may or may not hold the key to World War 3 if the phallic-nosed ghost detective is right. Why do the walls have nipples, why is the forest full of babies, and how are the dead coming back to life? Maybe this is a dream. Or a fantasy. Or maybe she was in a terrible car accident and not her husband. Or does she have a husband? When did this happen and how did she get here? 

In his illuminating introduction to the book, Moebius (aka Jean Giraud, RIP) mentions David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive as a comparison to Frederick Peeters’ trippy tale which is totally accurate, not least for Peeters’ cinematic art treatment of the story. There are parts of the book which you can follow and you think you know what’s happening and then suddenly Peeters will take a left turn and you’ll be somewhere else. And then another left turn, then another, and you don’t know what to think. 

This might seem like an irritating form of storytelling - and it probably will be to some readers - but Pachyderme is the kind of well-crafted story which offers the audience multiple interpretations, all of which are valid. And it does so in a way that’s always keeping you engaged so that you’re not totally off balance but not fully in control either - and, it seems, neither is the author. 

Again, it’s the kind of book where describing it makes it seem overintellectual, ungraspable and pretentiously arty that will completely isolate practically everyone - but it’s not. Pachyderme won’t be for everyone - what is? - but it’s the kind of mesmerising story that anybody looking for an original and fascinating comic will get something out of.


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