Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart

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Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: While it might not look attractive enough for some, the depth of this warm-hearted and amusing domestic drama does shine brightly.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 80 Date: June 2012
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224090841

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Meet Daniel Bagnold. He is a surly, sullen, modern teenager, permanently in a black hoodie, with long, lanky hair and almost a monobrow, who one would call very quiet were it not for the metal music that forms almost his only interest. He has been forced to spend the summer, not in Florida with his absent father's new family, but with his librarian mother Sue, his best friend and his shyness. He doesn't want much, and neither it would appear does his mother – although she knows she has to get him some posh shoes for her cousin's wedding. This book is about their relationship – the two of them and the dog that completes the household – in telling, devastating and humorous manner.

It takes something for major literary awards to perk up and notice graphic novels, and this is that something. Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2012 at time of review, this happily sits between the literary and the graphic novel camps, and should definitely satisfy both, whatever their background and reading experience. In a landscape format paperback, with a routine grid of three by two, each page-long chapter is an episode, a window into the Bagnold life. Sometimes not a lot happens until a punchline in the sixth panel, while other pages can appear quite wordy – with long speech bubbles and a lot of the quietly arch, dry voice-over of the captions.

And a quiet unshowiness is at the forefront of this book. With such a simple format it still amazes how much detail the novel can fold into itself. Daniel is too hesitant to join up with some young kids forming their own band – and he certainly can't bear to be seen with his mother in town. She, in turn, has anxieties of her own about her memories of teenage years, but then can't understand the hippyish , successful mother to Daniel's friend let alone the younger generation of today. Things boil down to times when quietness is what both people really need – whether over fish and chips and magazines at home, or rejecting others' company in a restaurant. They will be forever apart at night, but the mother and son umbilicus is still there emotionally at random times, and strengthened by seemingly random things.

If anything disappointed me it was the approach of the artwork, and that was not a major problem. It's in keeping with the mood of the piece, the general manner in which happiness is unnoticeable to the characters, but everyone is – well, not exactly appealing visually. While there might be better looking sights in the world than fifty-two year old single mother librarians, the friend's household is definitely on the ugly side, and nobody is drawn to look attractive. This glumness, which some might find derogatory, and which is fulfilled through the splodgy painted shadowing and textures, can mean that some details look a bit off – and with characters as well-defined as this we would appreciate every detail in their life.

What makes the overall story and this odd couple so endearing, then, is the format itself, presented both in pointed, page-ending quip and over-arching narrative. The fact the drawings – on the whole very competent, if as I say a little rough and ready – generally have no background detail, allows the characters to stand out in more way than one, and this is a memorable household, seemingly passed over by history yet given their rightful place on these pages – and recommended by us as well worth meeting.

I must thank the kind Cape people for our review copy.

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot is a different kettle of fish, but was also shortlisted for the Costa Prize 2012.

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