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Days of the Bagnold Summer Paperback – International Edition, July 9, 2012
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The Amazon Book Review
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About the Author
Joff Winterhart is an illustrator, filmmaker, and drummer.
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Top Customer Reviews
I'm a 28 year old man who has read hundreds, if not thousands, of comics and my tastes are wide ranging from manga and anime to DC and Marvel to indie comics from Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, Image, Dark Horse, and everything in between. So please don't think I'm marking this down because there isn't a masked vigilante with a cape as the protagonist. But I think this is a comic book for middle aged and older mothers who probably don't read many comics.
"Days of the Bagnold Summer" is the story of six weeks in the summer which Sue, a 52 year old single mother who works as a librarian, and her 15 year old metalhead son Daniel spend together. It's a subtle story told in 6 panel per page vignettes that comprise an accurate and moving portrait of the kind of relationship middle aged mothers and teenage sons have. The book reminded me of when I was a teenager (though I wasn't into metal nor did I wear a hoody) and Daniel's behaviour toward Sue was, at least in part, familiar. It's observations are spot on and the book overall is a true slice of life.
Oh GOD it's soooooo DEPRESSING! Joff Winterhart really went all out to make Sue's life so miserable! She's 52 but looks older and she really hasn't aged well. She was never a beauty but at 52... phew. And she wears massive sweaters and giant glasses... I can already feel female readers turning on me as I write! She's alone with her son, reminiscing of the times when he was younger and they had a more amiable and communicative relationship but now, he's distant. Her husband left her for a younger, more attractive woman. She doesn't have a significant other. She doesn't have friends. She doesn't have a fulfilling job. She's alone. ALONE!
At this point I thought, enough! please, Joff Winterhart, give this poor woman something, anything, good! But he keeps going, delving into her youth and giving her an abusive alcoholic stepfather, a boyfriend who went on to kill himself, friends who used her, and a tremulous marriage to a shallow man. The only good thing in her life is her son who doesn't want to know her.
This book is ridiculously sad and maudlin. Poor Sue, no wonder she's depressed! Reading this, I was beginning to feel that way too, and then when their dog dies and Sue can't stop crying I was actively looking for my noose! It became so overwhelmingly sad that I actually began to think Winterhart was going for a comic book version of a Thomas Hardy novel. Have you read "Jude the Obscure"? That scene where the son murders his siblings and then hangs himself is rightfully hilarious because it's just so over the top. Or maybe my mind just snapped at that point. Either way "Bagnold Summer" isn't quite that but it is gloomy under a seriously mean cloud.
Even in the more benign scenes like when Sue's listening to the radio in her car, singing along to '70s song, eating a toffee, the scene ends with her pulling out a filling! She just can't catch a break! You're a cruel man, Winterhart. I don't know why other reviewers have said this book is hilarious, they must all be sadistic and/or like me retreated to crazyland to survive the rest of the book.
Believe me when I say I enjoy gloomy books and that I don't prefer books to have happy endings, just true ones. Some of my favourite novels have downright miserable finales like Orwell's "1984", Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath", Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby" and the aforementioned Thomas Hardy. But I think what made it worse was that Sue is a doomed character who doesn't deserve her fate but she's still never going to be happy. The one good thing in her life, Daniel, is going to leave school soon, leave her, and probably visit her a couple times a year. And that's Sue's lot. She runs down the clock working in the library, and then dies. It's just too sad, too hopeless. I desperately wanted Winterhart to give Sue something positive that wasn't connected to her son but he doesn't. Tough luck, Sue.
This is a fine comic, in fact I'm glad it was nominated for the Costa Award, it's good to see well crafted indie comics breaking through into the mainstream, and for the artistry in this book, it's well worth the maximum rating. But I can't give it because I struggled to read it. It's too miserable, too sad, and I was glad when I put it down because I didn't have to spend time in Sue's grey world anymore. Good news though if you're a middle aged mum, there's a comic written just for you that understands what it's like to raise a teenage son! Everyone else... just be good to each other, ok? Things aren't that bad.