Burning Brightly with A Powerful Story, Gareth Brookes Powerful Artwork is Both Vibrant and Unsettling
Flowers sprout out of the television, wild vines climb the walls and burst through the window. In the garden, alien children spin around - arms outstretched and helmets on their heads, narrowly missing troops of soldiers who parade down the street. It's disorienting and strange, yet I'm unable to tear my eyes away for a second...
No, I've not just dropped a particularly potent tab of Acid but instead, I'm curled up on the sofa reading "A Thousand Coloured Castles" by Gareth Brookes, published by Myriad Editions. It's a beautifully drawn graphic novel that brings the mundane and the sinister together, forming a world that brings a truly unique viewpoint direct to the reader
Myriam is an older woman living a fairly dull life - cooking and cleaning for her husband and passing time in their suburban bungalow. Things are tame - stale even, but then Myriam starts seeing strange things. Walls rise to block her path, people with bird faces greet her from the garden and strange children spin through the streets in an endless procession. Both her husband and daughter instantly think that she's gone mad - and proceed to worry more about the implications for their futures than how Myriam might be coping with the things that are happening to her. Myriam, however, has her concentration elsewhere - convinced that a young boy is being held captive in the basement of the house next door. Determined to investigate, she's forced to see through the strange visions to the truth of what is really happening and finds herself an unlikely ally in her grandchild.
Brookes art is something that takes a little bit of getting used to - the murkiness of the colours and the lack of detail initially proving distracting, but a few pages in it becomes clear that the art represents the mundanity of Myriam's everyday life perfectly, a little reminiscent of the images of everyday life in the North that Lowry was crafting in the 20th Century. There's a real sense of claustrophobia in the scenes of home life, and it fits well with the portrayal of Myriam and her husband - a couple who've been married all of their lives and seem to have run out of any kind of conversation. She cooks, cleans, and goes to the shops - but it becomes very clear that Myriam is a woman who is existing rather than truly living. The colour in her life, and in the book itself, comes from the visions and hallucinations that start to appear in Myriam's world - visions that are both vibrant and unsettling. Whilst the more outlandish hallucinations are wonderfully depicted, it's the smaller ones that shake the reader the most - a door handle seemingly multiplying and preventing Myriam from getting in the house, or a man’s tie and collar flying off while he's in the middle of selling door to door, show the loss of control that Myriam faces - and brings it to life for the reader in a startlingly immediate fashion.
twists that are shocking and visceral
The art is undoubtedly the focus here, but Brookes writing serves as a perfect companion to the images. Sparse words in cursive text help make Myriam's journey a surprisingly touching one - illuminating both her loneliness and her confusion as events escalate around her, and enabling the reader to like and care for Myriam almost as soon as they begin reading. She's a lead character who says little - but everyone will know or have known an elderly lady like Myriam, helping to draw the reader into the story even more, eager to find out the cause of her problems and to help her solve them.
Two central mysteries are explored in some detail in the book - the main one being Myriam's hallucinations, but a secondary plot about a child being held captive soon becomes the centre of Myriam's life. It's a clever move, as the reader isn't sure whether the child is real, or part of Myriam's visions - and it's a plot that's resolved with twists that are shocking and visceral, drawing the reader out of the fantasy world created by Myriam's hallucinations and back into a stark and brutal reality.
That reality is where Brookes takes Myriam's story and uses it to explore a real but little-known medical issue. The graphic novel is the perfect format for exploring the condition (which won't be revealed here for fear of spoiling the plot), but also the loneliness and isolation that many old people face. Not that this makes this a gloomy read though - Myriam's spirit and Brookes beautiful art allow and uplifting spirit to pervade through the darkness - and I daresay you'll close this book with a smile.
‘You won’t have read anything quite as unique as this before - a graphic novel that seems initially rather mundane, but burns brightly with a remarkable story, a powerful sense of humanity, and a pull that will leave the reader picking this book up again and again.
A Thousand Coloured Castles by Gareth Brookes is published by Myriad Editions and is available now.
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