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Review of the book I read Monday, July 18th.

Yes, this is in fact a graphic novel adaptation of Le Petit Prince, in its entirety, with no changes, alterations, scenes removed or added, or sentences missing.

The question I had when I saw it on [personal profile] sovay's mother's coffee table was 'Why in God's name does this exist?' It is not, after all, as though Antoine de Saint-Exupéry could not draw, even if it is something of a plot point that what he is best at is boa constrictors swallowing elephants. So I read the thing to see whether it could justify its own existence.

If you have not read Le Petit Prince, you should of course read it first. It is one of the great books. But this... reluctant as I am to say it, Joann Sfar, principally known to U.S. readers as the author of The Rabbi's Cat, has done a graphic novel that I... rather liked.

Because the reason it has for existing is the only one that could actually have made it tolerable: Joann Sfar is such a good artist, is sufficiently good at communicating emotion through drawings, that he can actually show you exactly what images he gets when he thinks about the original. They are indisputably both Saint-Exupéry's images, and also not. What this is, and it amazes me, is the closest thing I have yet encountered to being able to look inside someone else's head while they read. All right. That is worthwhile.

Because when he sees beauty, it is not the same as the beauty I get from the original; and the strangenesses are not the same either; and he gets a quality from some of it that I can only describe as fear. There are portions of this where the sheer unearthliness of the prince is actively frightening. There are portions of this where the sheer alienness of the flower is frightening. It would never have occurred to me to look at it that way. His drawings of the narrator, of Saint-Exupéry himself, are carefully observed (they look like the man whose photographs you can find on the internet) and yet expressive, and it does change something to be able to see the narrator of a first-person novel. It is still first-person, but it is at a different remove. Maybe that is where the fear comes in: it is ours and not our narrator's.

Sfar's work here is profoundly lovely, in a scratchy pen-and-ink style that incorporates the drawings from the source without either looking like them or making them seem incongruous. The colors are supersaturated, the sense of desert and sky bright and immediate. There are little touches I like: the smoke of the narrator's pipe turns into a snake engulfing his head (recalling the boa constrictor and the elephant), and is then revealed to be imaginary smoke (after all he ran out of cigarettes days ago).

I have some instinctive deep resistance to this work, because I am frightened of its images replacing mine. I do not want Sfar's rose to be my rose. That is a problem I so often have with movies. But his work is so individual, so very filtered through the raw stuff of himself, that I am nowhere near as worried about that as I am with, say, most movies of the books I like. Do not read this without knowing the original! Let it be a supplement, let it be an addendum as it is meant to be, and then it will show you the work in a new light, and be enjoyable. Sfar had a great deal of hubris to attempt this, but sometimes hubris wins out.


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March 2017

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