I recently read Beautiful Darkness, by Fabien Kehlmann & Kerascoët, translated from the French. The artist Kerascoët is really two people, Marie Pommepuy and Sebastien Cosset and the story is based on an idea by Marie Pommepuy. And what a great story. I must have read it 10 times in the last week (it’s not that long).
Starting with a tete-a-tete over hot chocolate and cake, a disaster forces the heroine to escape through dank, creepy, slimy collapsing corridors to freedom in forest. Freedom from a little dead girl lying in the woods with hundreds of tiny people climbing out of her eyes and nose and mouth. This is some of the anti in the fairy tale. We never really learn what ‘before’ was like. But these little people are woefully unfit to live in a forest, victims of cats, birds and ants, they nevertheless try to make a world for themselves. The origins of these little people is never explained, you probably can’t think too hard about it. They had sofas and clothes and teapots, so they must have lived in some kind of psychic space inside the girl (called Aurora). They know what sunstroke is and at least one of them can read. It seems that most of them didn’t know each other until they all ended up in the forest together.
The blurb says it’s a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny. But the winnowing down of people is not just by each other, it’s mostly by the ginormous forest creatures. Even the plants are dangerous. One little creature (little girl?), turns up with a itchy swollen hand, later her entire arm and half her face is swollen, next she is swollen all over, then we never see her again (so attention to detail and rereading it a few times pays off). Keep an eye out for the triplets/twins (I didn’t notice the twins used to be triplets on the first read), their conversion from triplets to twins is one of the more horrible scenes (in a good-story way). And there’s no evidence that anyone becomes evil once civilising influences are off, the impression was more that they were themselves (evil or good) all along, only now they are up against the wall (the forest, then winter).
It’s interesting to read online reviews, Zainab suggests the four main characters can be seen as Auroras conscientiousness, psychoticism, neuroticism and openness to new experience. But the comic is more about questions than answers. What would that make all the other little people? (their-six year-old self? their enjoys-pulling-legs-off-insects self?). While it’s interesting to think about, they are not a straightforward representation as seen in Narbonic (definitely read that review as well, it’s really good, also do read Narbonic too).
I’ll close with a picture of something that didn’t happen. We see Aurora waking up and going home. That’s what should have happened. We never find out why it didn’t.