Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hostage by Guy Delisle Review

In July 1997 while on a mission for Doctors Without Borders, French worker Christophe Andre was kidnapped in the Russian Caucasus by Chechens and held for a $1m ransom. He thought his release would be secured in one or two days, not realising the months of captivity ahead of him! 

Best known for his autobiographical comics about his travels in dangerous regions like North Korea and Jerusalem, French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle’s graphic adaptation of Christophe’s account is also his longest book to date, clocking in at 430 pages. I mention the length because it’s the main reason why I didn’t love this one, though I didn’t dislike it that much either.

After the compelling beginning when Christophe is kidnapped, he’s moved from one bare room to another where he stays handcuffed to radiators, desperately trying to remember the date and waiting for his crappy meals. Luckily his jailers aren’t violent towards him and leave him to his own devices but that doesn’t mean much! There’s no dialogue with his captors as he doesn’t speak Russian and his inner monologue is limited, most of which is taken up with wondering when he’ll be freed and occasionally recounting historical battles to distract himself from total boredom. He’s a bit of a boring protagonist! 

As a result the majority of the book is largely repetitive and dull, blurring into one unmemorable, sparsely-worded static scene after another – it makes for a quick read though. Delisle’s minimalist art doesn’t help liven things up either (though it’s perhaps an appropriate match for the bland material).

I understand why Delisle structured the book this way - to give insight into and convey the tedium and frustration of Christophe’s experience to the reader – but it doesn’t make the book any more interesting to read. It does heighten the excitement of the finale though as, after hundreds of pages where barely anything happens, a lot of thrilling stuff starts happening at once. Still, the reader does have to endure a lot of dreariness to make it to the worthwhile payoff. 

Hostage is a decent comic with a gripping beginning and end but a very mediocre middle - which is unfortunately the longest part! Nonetheless it’s a remarkable story that I’m glad I read and I suspect that if you’re a Guy Delisle fan like me you’ll pick this up regardless. Though I would’ve preferred a heavily edited down version, I can still appreciate Delisle’s artistic vision for the comic, even if that makes Hostage my least favourite of his books.

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