Thursday, 10 March 2011

'coincidence counters'

Vignettes Of Ystov 
by William Goldsmith

Goldsmith is an illustrator based in Brighton who trained at the Glasgow School of Art. Vignettes of Ystov is his debut graphic novel and is comprised of several short graphic stories, illustrated through pen and watercolour, that seem at first to be about the lives of disparate characters in a fictional Eastern European city but which gradually mesh together as their lives intersect. A page at the start introduces us to the cast list and we will discover as we read 'their everyday absurdities, restraints, and small triumphs' The city's skyline is dominated by one large building, The Trexlar Tower, and it is here that one of the book's major events happens. A man is killed by a discarded coin that falls from the tower's summit and when his apartment is cleared we discover more about this janitor, a secretive man whose converted his apartment into a kind of museum cataloguing not items of great worth but the everyday rubbish that he found through his job. A discarded piece of gum, a 'scuffed silver star', nothing is too small or seemingly insignificant to not be included in his collection, each with its own speculative history like the gum for example which was perhaps 'chewed by a loved-up youth combatting the day's garlicky goulash.'

Another significant character is Eugene Tusk, once a poet and part of the Strombold collective, 'a man in love with all things obscure' who is hired to write the story of the janitor's death. He will also find himself loosely connected with Leopold Weiss, a man always guided by his sensitive nose who began making sculptures of the proboscis after seeing a 'nose so pure he hyperventilated' on the tram one day before being arrested for 'nose crimes'. The exact connections between these men aren't entirely clear until the epilogue which suddenly casts a different light on these vignettes and we realise that each short burst of narrative is an act of creative expression, so important in a rigid society or large city, especially one where the heavy hand of government is never far away.

There is something about this book that reminded me of the films of Wes Anderson. That affection for minutiae (that some might find sentimental) mentioned above is one thing, but each story is also rendered in a dominant colour so that it is a bit like watching a very clearly art-directed film. The brevity of each story also lends them toward my Anderson comparison, he's always been good at providing a few clear details about a character which I was going to call telling before I remembered that the very effect of all that design and thumbnail sketching is that it doesn't tend to reveal much at all. Something of that might have prevented this book from making a huge impact with me but maybe that's a question of asking it to be something it was never meant to be. These are 'vignettes' after all, a very European approach to storytelling with characters appearing and disappearing, each flash giving us a new angle from which to view them from and there is a charm about them that fully merits that cast list at the beginning. If it were a TV series you could almost imagine them all waving to the camera as the titles rolled across: You have been watching....


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