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Pachyderme Hardcover – October 1, 2013
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Peeters’ autobiographical award winner, Blue Pills (2008), ended with him chatting with a mammoth. The fictional Pachyderme begins in a traffic jam created by an elephant in the middle of the road. Out of the fray walks a stylishly dressed woman en route to her hospitalized husband. Cut to that institution’s surgical theater, from which the surgeon, who’s also the director, literally dances away from another successful procedure. Even before she reaches the hospital, the woman begins to see things (alien-looking babies) and when she wanders the building there is more: a spy-type capable of emerging from a pipe in the wall and, in the morgue, the reanimated corpse of an old woman who may be herself-to-come. She also encounters the surgeon-director, who comes on to her, and, briefly, her husband. Flashbacks to her just-earlier life, in which she gave up a concert pianist’s career for marriage, also feature in Peeters’ surreal, dreamlike tale, immaculately rendered in the cinematic realist manner typical of mainstream European comics. What it means exactly is up for grabs, but it has a happy ending. --Ray Olson
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The art here is by turns somber / cheeky / moody / expansive. The color palate is mostly subdued, with punctuations of boldness that enhance and throw the other pages into relief. As should be assumed, there is a lot going on here. There is a constant current of unease, but never creepy or depressing. I will certainly be dipping back in again.
I once read a humorously obtuse review of a novel which concluded: "This is the sort of thing you will like, if you like this sort of thing." I am finding myself wanting to reprise it, half seriously, now. For those who insist on a linear narrative, obviously, this is not your ball of tea. For those with a desire to have a graphic novel stretch you out a little and make / let you draw your own insights, this may well be a treat for your tastes. Forgive the high ratio of "/" to words here, but there is a lot of /ing going on in this beguiling little novel.
A woman leaves her car in a traffic jam in the country after discovering a dead elephant is blocking the road. She has to get to the nearby hospital because her husband has been in a terrible car accident. She traverses the forest to reach the hospital and discovers that she can’t find her husband. As she makes her way through this increasingly Kafka-esque place, she’ll meet an alcoholic surgeon who may or may not hold the key to World War 3 if the phallic-nosed ghost detective is right. Why do the walls have nipples, why is the forest full of babies, and how are the dead coming back to life? Maybe this is a dream. Or a fantasy. Or maybe she was in a terrible car accident and not her husband. Or does she have a husband? When did this happen and how did she get here?
In his illuminating introduction to the book, Moebius (aka Jean Giraud, RIP) mentions David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive as a comparison to Frederick Peeters’ trippy tale which is totally accurate, not least for Peeters’ cinematic art treatment of the story. There are parts of the book which you can follow and you think you know what’s happening and then suddenly Peeters will take a left turn and you’ll be somewhere else. And then another left turn, then another, and you don’t know what to think.
This might seem like an irritating form of storytelling - and it probably will be to some readers - but Pachyderme is the kind of well-crafted story which offers the audience multiple interpretations, all of which are valid. And it does so in a way that’s always keeping you engaged so that you’re not totally off balance but not fully in control either - and, it seems, neither is the author.
Again, it’s the kind of book where describing it makes it seem overintellectual, ungraspable and pretentiously arty that will completely isolate practically everyone - but it’s not. Pachyderme won’t be for everyone - what is? - but it’s the kind of mesmerising story that anybody looking for an original and fascinating comic will get something out of.