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Britten and Brulightly Paperback – 3 Apr 2008
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"An impressive debut. Set in a beautifully evoked bygone era, it's a tale of private investigation that takes its narrative queue from the writing of Dashiell Hammett and its visual styling from American film noir" (Scotland on Sunday)
"The plot writhes and twists, needing its drizzly, downbeat epilogue to draw together the many strings" (Guardian)
"Berry's ability to convey facial expressions is right on the button" (The Big Issue)
A brilliant debut graphic novel by a new British author.See all Product description
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The dialogue has a fantastic energy and wit, the plot compelling and the characters complex. The repartee between Fern and his partner Stewart Brulightly bounces back and forth like a game of tennis written by a cross between Douglas Adams and Raymond Chandler.
The visual style isn't compromised by the script though. Set in a strange 1940's rainy England with hints of Europe and a dash of New York where talking tea-bags, trecherous waiters and religious fanatics all jostle for space. The buildings tower over our heroes (and often soak them from their constantly overflowing gutters) and the tone is as cold and grey as Fern's outlook on life. It's like David Fincher's 'Seven' meets Belleville Rendezvous with a dash of Ealing comedy thrown in and Morgan Freeman as a wisecracking teabag.
High praise indeed.
The reader is invited to share and carry the burden of Britten's loneliness and bitterness, and even paranoia, to walk through the monochromatic pages of relentless rain in the town, and listen to his conversations with Brülightly. The atmosphere is as gloomy as an English sky in winter and we eagerly wait for the "case" to start, together with Britten, and to escape from the "unbearable lightness of being". In this way, Berry has made us, in a unique and effective way, voluntary participants in her dramaturge's concept.
The story is delicate and complex, the atmosphere is full of the psychological and sociological shades of the 50s, illustrating dark moral aspects of life in England. The suspense is relentless, like in the best examples of the crime noir genre. Berry plunges into her narration of a self-centred family and the unfortunate people who live in its shadow, avoiding early clues until, when we are at our most confused, she provides an effective and satisfying dénouement.
Panels and pages are organised meticulously, keeping the readers involved and finishing each page in such a way that we are in a hurry to see what comes next. This is really a master class in storytelling. It remains a mystery how Berry has achieved this maturity in narration at such a young age.
Berry's drawings are realistic, with an element of grotesqueness in the portrayal of characters: closer to French graphic novels than to the traditional American newspaper or superhero comics which are a more dominant influence on British authors. Berry's visual leaning towards the European comic tradition is refreshing for the British comic scene.
Her panels are filled with details and painted in acrylic inks, usually with the predominant use of one colour to underline the atmosphere of a particular scene. Occasional use of a brighter palette provides a rare liveliness, or even a humoristic refreshment. Allegedly, this masterful use of colours is a result of proper university training in illustrations of the author, but it is more likely that this ability comes through attentive observations of the masters of painting.
This graphic novel, an inspired continuation of the crime noir tradition, left a strong impact on me and I wished to see the originals. The opportunity arrived when a small exhibition was organised in London in 2011. I was in shock to see that original pages were A4 format (210x297 mm), the same size as the published pages. This shows a very unusual decision by the author to draw and paint in details on a very small page, which requires a huge amount of effort and resilience. When I met Berry much later I mentioned her painstaking work on an A4 format, but she said that it had to be like that at that time, but she would be drawing on larger formats in the future because she has finally been able to afford a bigger scanner!
On the basis of the graphic novel Britten and Brüightly, it can be concluded that Berry's drawing style and narrative skill are on a very high level and, despite the dark shades and unfortunate protagonists in this book, her future is going to be bright.
A graphic novel about a pair of detectives, one of whom is, indeed, a teabag (see if you can guess which from their names...). Fernandez Britten is weary of being "the Heartbreaker", famous for investigating adultery cases and wrecking families. He takes on instead a case about an apparent suicide, possible a murder; but finds troubling links back to an unhappy investigation from years ago.
The story is complex, the dialogue dry and witty, but underlying the sordid intricacies of human machinations is Britten's growing disillusionment with the value of "truth" and his recognition of the harm his work has caused. The atmospheric artwork uses watery palettes and distancing perspectives that make the dark, cramped city seem like a rat run. Berry is good at conveying story through pictures too, although the wordless spread where Britten puts it all together made my brain hurt - in a good way! :) An original and intriguing debut.
The story follows Britten, a jaded and world-weary detective, in the hunt to prove that an apparent suicide was in fact murder. The drawings are largely sepia-tinged monochrome, as befits the Noir genre and the dialogue's as snappy as Chandler's. Of course, nothing is as it seems and Britten finds the more truth he uncovers, the more confusing things become.
The story is delightfully complicated, but hangs together under close scrutiny. To fully understand what had happened, required (for me at least) a second reading, which was just as pleasurable an experience as it was first time through. Without giving too much away (I hope) Britten, finds himself culpable in his own investigation, and the novel asks interesting questions about the moral obligations of private eyes.
This is a multi-layered, gorgeously textured story, which bears multiple readings. Britten and Brulightly should have a broad appeal; fans of thrillers, noir, graphic novels or high quality writing, will find much to enjoy. If you have a passing interest in any of the above, then I strongly urge you to read it.
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