Monday, July 27, 2015

Il gusto del cloro, Bastien Vivès

"Il gusto del cloro" means "The taste of chlorine" in Italian. That is the fundamental sensory experience of going to a public pool. Unfortunately there is no English version of this beautiful graphic novel, but given the very limited dialogue, I believe anyone can enjoy it, whether you speak Italian, French, or you don't.

One of the fascinating characteristics of the comic as a form of art is its ability to tell with few images what typically would require hundreds of words. This characteristic is even more remarkable when you narrate events that are minimalistic, small daily events almost meaningless if it were not for the upheavals in the inner worlds of the characters. This is what happens in "The taste of chlorine", the fourth work of French artist Bastien Vives , winner of this year's award "Essentiel Revelation".

The story takes place in a pool where two unnamed characters meet every Wednesday evening: a boy suffering from scoliosis, swimming with difficulty and with a bit of reluctance, merely for therapeutic purposes, and a girl with a past as an athlete, who is an expert swimmer. It is a story of silences and absences, designed with very little dialogue and no caption, where the souls of the two kids seem to move closer, slowly overcoming the initial awkwardness.

The greatest strength of this graphic novel is the graphic and the elegant design: the things the author was able to accomplish with the coloring, the contrasts and the positioning of bodies in space are unbelievable. If you've ever been to a public swimming pool, at some point while reading this book you will smell chlorine in your nose, there is no doubt about it. This is how immersive this graphic novel experience is.

The soothing, hypnotic green-blue is everywhere, and even though the location is always the same, a public swimming pool, the reader has access to at least a hundred different points of view, above and under water.

Don't go looking for a strong plot, because there isn't one. But then that's not the point of this work of art. Unfortunately, the ending is inconclusive and unsatisfying, in desperate need of an editor. I felt let down by the open-ended conclusion. The author does not explain or conclude anything. I hate that, because even if I have nothing against minimalistic stories and thin plots, I've always found that authors do that as if to say "I am so different and sophisticated!", but really what it is, it's a sign of a lack of imagination. Or at best, a sign that the author doesn't know how to write a story, or he was too lazy to do it. Readers who love the artsy-fartsy world will love that ending. Anyone else won't.

In any case, the drawings are so powerful that you will happily forgive the author for this sin.

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