Beautiful Darkness

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So, that gigantic hand on the cover is not, as I had previously imagined, the hand of a fallen or fractured statue.

It is, in fact, the decaying hand of a dead human girl.

I felt like that bit of information ought to set the mood quite nicely for my post on this graphic novel. Also, I will try not to get any more spoilerific than that. Right. So. Beautiful Darkness by Vehlmann and Kerascoët is the story of Aurora who is one of many tiny people who inhabit a human girl’s body. When the girl unexpectedly dies and her body begins to fall apart, the tiny people must leave the familiar confines of their home and endeavour to explore the larger world outside.

A couple of the reviews on the back of the book describe it as a “fairy tale” or a “fairy world”, while another reviewer calls it an “anti-fairy tale”. An argument could be made, I suppose, for either of those cases. It does hold a very fairytale kind of charm, especially given Kerascoët’s gorgeous watercolour art. Additionally, the tiny people are reminiscent of The Borrowers …

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the animals are sometimes friends and familiars …

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and there is a romance afoot …

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However, like all good fairytales, nothing is quite what it seems.

The tiny people who were all so polite and civil to each other begin to find this strange new world a harsh place to survive. The death of the human girl signals the death of the society these tiny people have so desperately and mindlessly clung to. And so, the turn of each page reveals of a fresh new terror. Starting with the rapidly decomposing body of the girl who, by the way, no one but the reader seems to understand as an actual person rather than a vessel …

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moving to how nature truly is about the survival of the fittest (or the smartest) …

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and concluding with how cruel people are to those they do not understand, to those they fear, or to those they simply do not value …

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Even the romance is … well, I don’t want to give it all away. Just keep a keen eye on Aurora and Henry. Their characters are fun to keep track of. (And by “fun”, I totally mean “horrifying”.)

And so, the very artwork that once made the graphic novel beautiful is now twisted and serves to heighten the sense of horror. It reads more like an apocalyptic story or a war story, much along the lines of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and less like an Disney movie. If that is what makes it “anti-fairytale”, then I guess I agree. However, traditional fairytales are very similar to this one- pretty much every character is coloured by their ulterior motives, the romance is a plot device at best and absolutely creepy at worst (and both scenarios play out in this one), and magic is used as a way to subvert societal norms. Plus, large helpings substantial amounts of gore. Check, check, check, and check. There’s just that extra theme of exploring the human condition. Just! Ha!

Beautiful Darkness is possibly the best and most appropriate title for this book. It is the beauty that draws you in and the darkness that traps you. You just can’t look away. It makes you take a good hard look at humanity (or the lack of it) and if that’s the headspace you are in right now, then this is the book for you. If not … best to wait. Also, when I say that the pictures I’ve uploaded do not even skim the surface of how gory this text can be, you should maybe trust me? I would recommend this one to anyone who can stomach (and enjoy) Sandman by Neil Gaiman. (That’s just how I gauge horror. Sorry.)

On that cheery note, happy weekend everyone!