by Pierre Oscar Levy
and Frederick Peeters
I just love the cover to this book. It's disconcerting before you even open the cover and that should be fair warning to anyone who's intrigued to find what's inside. This is certainly the oddest graphic novel I've read in a while and quite possibly the oddest piece of fiction, graphic or otherwise, for quite some time too. With artwork from Peeters and storyline from film-maker Levy this is a graphic novel that seems to be in one kind of genre, switches to another and may possibly be in another category of storytelling altogether. That's quite a feat in a hundred pages.
The location is a beach, a haven amongst some rocky cliffs, and we watch as several characters make there way to it. One is already there, an Arabic looking man, who watches as a young girl undresses completely and goes for a swim in the sea. A couple of families make their way to the sand and whilst they bicker and banter a grandmother and her grandson make the gruesome discovery of the floating corpse of the girl we watched undress earlier. So we might be reading a crime novel and the patriarch of one of the families thinks he has it solved when he sees the Arabic man from earlier (he is in fact Kabyle but the casual racism of his accuser doesn't care about distinctions like that). But there is something far stranger going on and it is some time before the assembled company begin to notice the signs. One woman's children appear to have outgrown their swimming costumes despite only just having purchased them and on closer inspection she notices that her 'baby boy' of three looks for more like a child of five or six and has quite clearly grown in line with that. His older sister appears to have grown up too and when she walks off with the young boy from another family the two of them appear to go through a fast track adolescence and sexual awakening. When grandmother takes ill and then stops breathing the group begin to start asking what on earth is going on.
A writer is amongst them and when he reveals that it is science fiction he specialises in they want to know what possible explanation there could be for their apparent accelrated ageing and inability to leave the beach itself. His theories don't result in any kind of satisfactory solution and whilst the adults find themselves confronting their own mortality (with each half hour representing a year it is clear that some of them won't make it through the night let alone the next day) the children are experiencing the opposite, an explosion of sexual awareness and procreation energy that will see that young girl from earlier get pregnant, come full term and even give birth on the same beach on which she lost her virginity.
So it isn't crime and once we get past the slightly Twilight Zone feel of the device you can't help but wonder if this graphic novel isn't offering something rather more profound. This isn't quite a life compressed into a day but it isn't far off, and it's certainly the sudden end of life for many of the characters; and the different ways in which they deal with that, or the way in which it comes about, provide some truly moving sequences and images. To find a husband and wife slowly reconciled into a spooned hug, or to watch a once powerful man reduced to second infancy as he makes a sandcastle on the beach are just a couple of those highlights. And whilst the fast approaching death of these older characters might make this feel like a slightly hopeless book there is always the hope provided by new life and the promise for its future. Like I said, quite a feat to get you thinking about all that in just 100 pages and some lovely artwork in places too.