I’ve spent a while deciding whether or not to write this one. It’s a potentially challenging subject matter and one that I have no personal experience with. On the other hand the form which it takes, the 2012 graphic novel ‘The Tale of Brin and Bent and Minno Marylebone’ by Ravi Thornton (artwork by Andy Hixon), is a surreal exposition of this author’s experiences and one which I admire greatly. To say i enjoyed the novel is by no means the right term, it’s more that I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the harsh, dark, nightmarish world it creates. It’s for that reason that I decide to go ahead and share my thoughts on this text.
The first thing to look at is the novel itself. It deals with the story of two sadistic, twisted lovers who come to together to work for ‘The House’ – a darkly macabre entity who runs what appears to be some kind of rehabilitation facility in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of their torturing of the inmates, the two come across Minno Marylebone, a child who manages to sneak into the rehabilitation pool every night and undergo a trans-formative process, finding beauty in the darkness. It deals with the relationship between these two lovers (Brin and Bent) and how this special child manages to show them the value of compassion, bringing about a painfully cathartic story which, as it unravels, breaches the strength of love amongst hateful and twisted desires.
If you read any review online, it will usually involve a metaphor about the novel being like unwrapping bandages, and it certainly is a novel that itself feels therapeutic, even if you don’t understand why. Even Thornton herself describes it as…
“a metaphor for the strange rationalisations that a damaged mind makes in order to survive a great pain”
This appears evident from the very start, when faced with another quote from Thornton describing the metaphorical nature of the book, and it’s basis in something “bad” that happened to her. The result is that you try to unpick it – it sounds awful but my first reaction was to try and guess which parts represent what in real life, and while you may have ideas, it almost seems irrelevant. Whatever happened to Ravi Thornton, she describes this novel as a bi-product of the aftermath, but it wasn’t her rehabilitation. She is clear that it was long, hard therapy that helped her rehabilitate – this novel is simply what was left behind. The whole tale has an archaic form to it, much like a cautionary tale. Ad while it’s filled with images of twisted depravity, it maintains an enduring sense of hope and joy. The narrative places a firm value into the nature of love, and sacrifice. So while this may be an un-original thing to say – yes, the book does come across as a kind of metaphorical therapy. An outlet from Thornton’s own experiences and one which I think many people might find their own catharsis in.
But of course there’s also how the novel presents itself, perhaps a more superficial element in comparison but it’s one that helps achieve the overall nature of the text. Andy Hixon’s artwork is an incredible achievement, all his figures appear like sub-human, sculptures – their forms seem wrong and many of the images are shattered like a window pane to provide the frantic nature of it’s two antagonists (for want of a better word.) The scenes of Brin and Bent torturing the inmates in plastic overalls are ones of particular significance to me, as much of the characterisation of these characters comes through in their visual standing. Much the same as Minno, who is often rendered with softer lines, especially when she transforms the pool into an ocean of her own kindness, the warmer colours washing over you as you suddenly realised how used to the monochrome world of The House you’ve become. Their surreal and eerie appearances load even the gentlest of scenes with frightening undertones, threatening violence and surreal discourse throughout.
Simultaneously, Thornton’s writing is just as effective at characterising the people, the setting and the metaphor of the text itself. Her language is simply descriptive, choosing just the right adjective which seems to convey a thousand more in your mind. Her words are unusual, and yet they’re strong enough to instil a clear image of the scene. The setting too is full of powerful images that I, as a reader, did not understand but loved nonetheless. Even the simple view of the glass bath-house behind the rehabilitation centre next to the ruined housing estate, eclipsed by the rolling hillsides is so strong that it terrifies me. An oddly rendered picture both in visual and textual terms which entice and shun me while reading. Equally the sensual and emotional beauty of the ending sequences evokes an equally strong response, like having it rush over you. Thornton’s language is just as precise, simple and yet once more she provides just enough to let you create an image, but not so much as to stunt your own exploration of it.
It’s metaphorical. And at no point do you forget that when reading it. It constantly shudders away from any sense of realism into a darkly twisted world. Yet it retains things we can recognise, emotions we can empathise with. Yes the book is personal, yes it is like a wound. But at no point did I feel that any of those things ever diluted the story with specificity. It doesn’t act as a label, there’s no sign saying ‘This will make you feel better’. You take as much as you want from this tale, whether it be a superficial appreciation of the visual and textual surrealism, or whether reading this for you is like a baptism in the darkness – and experience which wholly rehabilitates or invigorates you. It’s your choice, and the text benefits greatly from it. A distinctly twisted and yet unusually cleansing work of art, I would recommend it if only just for you to see what you’re like after reading it.