Not wanting the “Public Library” portion of my BookBin2012 widget to go unloved, and because I simply cannot stay out of a library as gorgeous as our neighborhood library, I bring you my latest discovery from the graphic novel section: Epileptic by David B. (or David Beauchard).
Originally released as a six-volume series under its French title, L’Ascension du Haut Mal (which translates as “The Rise of the High Evil”; also, “haut mal” is the French equivalent of the English term “grand mal” in reference to epileptic seizures), Epileptic is Beauchard’s retelling of his family’s journey through the sudden onset of his older brother’s epilepsy when his brother was 11.
Beauchard’s choice to approach his family’s story from his younger version’s perspective brings the narrative to a less convoluted, more accessible level. A story dealing with such a serious medical condition runs the risk of becoming overburdened by medical jargon; telling the tale from the perspective of the little brother who must process all these changes and ordeals as they are happening gave Beauchard permission to simplify his narrative without watering it down.
He balances the various family dynamics and reactions to his brother’s worsening condition, demonstrating not only the extraordinary measures to which family is willing to go in order to save their own, but also the disconnectedness and solitary confinement each member experiences, even in the face of familial cohesion in pursuit of a cure. Though they are together in family experimental journeys into alternative medicinal treatments and alternative religions, Beauchard explores well the varied and separate emotional responses he and his family experience.
Beauchard is not an overly sentimental writer, which I believe serves his story well. He is, however, a phenomenal artist. Just as I praised Craig Thompson for the artistry of his novel, Blankets, I believe that Beauchard is another whose artistic prowess has raised my opinion of graphic novels to an even higher plateau of respect. The inky intricacy of his oftentimes nightmarish tableaux roll over you in swells of beauty, horror, desperation, promise, resentment, and resignation. His artwork is unsettling, reflecting at times the disturbing aesthetic of a Grand Guignol influence.
[Or perhaps I merely think this because they’re both French. This is sometimes how my brain works.]
Admittedly, the artwork is bold and distinct enough that it was a bit overwhelming at first. I pressed through my initial discomfort and soon found myself enraptured by the dark details of Beauchard’s beautiful black and white panels. His view of the world, both the real one and that of his exquisite imagination, is rich and complex and full of the fury and impotence with which so many families are familiar when faced with an intractable disease. At times I found myself lingering over a page long after finishing the text, simply trying to take in the layers hidden beneath the words…layers that provided a deeper narrative unhindered by the boundaries of letters.
Final Verdict: I hope that this novel has already found its way into another’s book basket at our library. Definitely another one for the Amazon wish list.