Malaterre (Part One) by Pierre-Henry Gomont

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Malaterre tells the tale of Gabriel Lasaffre, a man whom I’d label as a functioning alcoholic, who at the very beginning of the book dies of a heart attack. For the rest of the tale his story is told by a friend and business partner. We’re told how Gabriel dreams of buying back the jungle estate his ancestors once owned and the interactions he has with those around him before and during this time.

Part One focuses, predominantly, on the “before” part, covering his youth, the start of his own family and his destructive rather than nurturing behaviours when handling any and all relationships. Gabriel only really looks out for Gabriel and will, seemingly, undermine his relationships with his own children to get what he wants.

The story itself is told fairly simply but its the art work that really makes everything work. At times the character work really reminds me of Quentin Blake (he who illustrated Roald Dahls works), although said characters are far more detailed than Blake’s work. There’s a real hand drawn sketching element to the artwork that adds life and a European feel to what we’re reading. Even if Gomont hadn’t explicitly told us that (at times) we were in France it would have been easy to place the characters there from the way Malaterre has been drawn. Some of the location drawings, especially of the cities and the beach are beautiful to look at and are almost characters within themselves.

What adds to this feel is the muted blocky palette that Gomont has applied to his work really helps the reader feel the tone and mood of particular sections of the story whilst the inventive use of speech bubbles, wherein we occasionally have images such as a pan of water boiling over or a fire, really help the reader understand the emotional state of the characters rather than just reading the text or having the characters spelt their feelings out to us at all times which really works to show how controlling and manipulative Gabriel can be in his interactions with others and how that makes them feel.

So far, so good then, Malaterre has been split into two parts by the publisher for its English translation (it appears to be one book for its original French release) but at just shy of 100 pages, theres a good chunk of work here to read through. I for one am looking forward to seeing how things unravel for Gabriel, his children and his ex-wife, not to mention the estate of Malaterre itself.

My copy of Malaterre (Part 1) was provided via NetGalley

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