Friday, 23 May 2014

What I've been reading: Meanwhile, and Gone with the Wind

It's the model I feel sorry for.

 Oh Gods, why am I doing this to myself?

The messages of support on Twitter, the people assuring me that I shouldn't put myself through this, the wordless comfort of my husband as he comes home and slips a much-wanted comic book into my hands... Dear christ. The only thing that's kept me going so far is I've read 321 pages of this and made the rash claim in front of my book group that I don't give up when I've committed to a novel.

Oh vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

Which about sums up Gone with the Wind thus far. It isn't so much that I don't like it (I don't), or that if I'd invented a drinking game for every time an insulting term is used to describe a black person, I would be dead from alcohol poisoning, it's that I'm bored. In 321 pages - the length of a shortish novel - and Scarlett O'Hara has shown the character development of a potato. She started the book vain, selfish, stupid and trivial minded and - despite marriage, marital rape, having a baby, a war, a siege and literally hours nursing the wounded and dying she is still exactly the same. She wears her vapidity like an armour. It would almost be admirable, if it wasn't so...

Dear Christ! People talk about her being manipulative, about her being unlikeable, or ruthless. So far, she's showed none of that. She's a flirt, and not even a particularly accomplished one. People talk about her being rebellious. No. She has mastered a few, codified behaviours which her strict social order insists are proper and she would be content - if only she were permitted to do that. She gets angry about big, significant things - the war, the way widows are buried alive - but for reasons that make me want to beat her over the head with a copy of The Vindication of the Rights of Women, (and, while we're at it, The Vindication of the Rights of Man).

Honestly, when it comes down to it, I don't hate Scarlett - I pity her. Or, perhaps, more accurately, I don't want to believe in her. No-one should be like that, so limited, so smug, so emotionally stunted. If a woman like her really existed, I wouldn't bear her any ill will, I just wouldn't want to spend any time with her. The only reason I'm getting cross is because I have just done so. 321 pages of time. And I'm not even half-way, yet.

Thank God for Gary Spencer Millidge, that's all I can say. And with a cover like that it takes quite an effort of will to convince myself that this isn't actually an edition of Strangehaven. Ah, Strangehaven, the first comic I followed, the one I convinced everyone else to start reading, the one that then stopped  and left me crying over my bookshelves for almost nine years...

And with 'Chicken' in issue 4 of Meanwhile... it's back. And if I say it hasn't changed a bit, that is the highest compliment. Millidge has a remarkable ability to capture that blend of English small town boredom and the uncanny that makes most of the best weird literature this country produces. And, if there's any justice in the world, Millidge's name will soon be spoken of in that way. The story is not part of the central arc of volumes 1-18 of the comic, but the characters are familiar, as is the world of twee, very English magic ("I'm not chicken, Bobby... but it's raining...") and a humour that verges upon menace.

used for review purposes
Really, not what I normally read.
I'll admit, I bought this for the Strangehaven. I will also admit I find comic compilations kind of hard to read. The changes in tone, in style, take a while to get used to, and I suspect I'll have look at this a good handful  of times before I get to grips with it. My overall impression was very favourable. There were a fair few stories that I felt could have handled some more time to breathe - the limitations of form perhaps rushing both the script and the art. Still, some lovely stuff. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Howard Stangroom and Stephen Lowther's Pet Shop Boys in Rent. This is not the sort of thing I would usually seek out, but I was very impressed. I guess that's the point of things compilations like this - they draw you in through something familiar and expose you to stuff you wouldn't normally see. The aforementioned cramping of narrative did not occur, its pacing was exquisite and natural. What's more the art was beautiful and the dialogue witty and convincing. I actually found it very moving.

Other writers and illustrators who names have been added to my 'keep an eye out for' list are Alistair Little, Frazer Alex Irving or David Hailwood. If Strangehaven is back, I guess it's time for me to get into comics again. Ah, what a burden...

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