Monday, January 31, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 362 (1/31) -- Harvey by Bouchard and Nadeau

If I weren't in the middle of a Book-A-Day run, I wouldn't have given this book a whole post -- most, or all, of what I want to say about it could easily be boiled down into a single paragraph in a longer round-up post. Of course, if I weren't in the middle of a Book-A-Day run -- and actively looking for more books to read and review -- I never would have read this book in the first place, so it's an oddly moot point.

Harvey is not quite a graphic novel -- it has no panels, has only one or two pictures per page, and is told primarily through narration rather than dialogue -- but it's from the side of the children's picture book universe closest to graphic novels, and definitely is a fine example of the art of putting words and pictures next to each other. (It reminded me quite a bit of Pascal Girard's devastating Nicolas, which I reviewed for ComicMix a few years ago.)

Harvey Bouillon is a elementary-school aged boy in French-speaking Canada, in a time that seems a generation ago but may just be a quiet, very Catholic neighborhood. (He may be, in whole or in part, writer Herve Bouchard.) One winter day, while he's playing in the street with his younger brother Cantin and other local kids, his father Laurent has a heart attack and dies. Harvey takes place from the day of the death through the moment when the casket is closed, covering the time when the family and community gathers in the funeral parlor to pay their last respects to the dead man.

Harvey is old enough to know what death means, and young enough not to focus on it -- he's recently seen the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man, and is obsessed with its hero, Scott Carey, so he thinks about that almost as much as his dead father. And he has a boy's ideas of what counts and what doesn't, as when he wants to avoid one last look at his father as the lid is closed so that he can remember all of different ways the mourners described Laurent instead. The whole is allusive and contextual rather than direct; these are the thoughts of a boy who's just had a big shock, and doesn't know how to handle it.

The art is by Janice Nadeau, and it's classic children's-book illustration, similarly contingent and specific, with smudges and washes to reinforce the palette of mostly dull, deep-winter colors. I found it all well-done and touching without actually being moved as much as I thought I should be -- unlike Nicolas, which is more obviously a book told in retrospect, and has a greater punch.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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