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Today has been a tired day, so I decided to read something that has almost no dialogue.

Jiro Taniguchi's graphic novel is about a man, who walks. He lives in a town somewhere in Japan that may or may not be a suburb of a large city, but is definitely fairly close to the ocean; he is happily married; he has a dog. He walks by himself, with his wife, with his dog, in the rain and the shine and the snow. He takes off his shoes to go through puddles, climbs fences and trees, looks up birds and shells and points of interest at the library, at one point steals the use of a swimming pool. He observes the people around him and has the sort of quiet interactions you have with friendly strangers-- I particularly like a bit where he gets into a subtle speed competition with an older man who is walking the same route.

As I said, there's very little dialogue, and most of it is about ordinary things. The manga is resolutely ordinary, but also very quietly happy. It's precise and detailed in its place drawings, its expression work, and you do get a sense of who this man is, and that walking this way, being a person who knows everything about his neighborhood and many points farther afield, is one of the major components of his being and the way he defines himself to himself. It's not so strident as to tell the reader outright to pay more attention to birds and trees and other people and what have you, it just uses the man's attention to draw the reader's, so that his pure pleasure in a long walk becomes the principal feel of the book.

Taniguchi is a major mangaka, very popular in France and at home, and the other work I've read by him tends to be melancholy and nostalgic evocations of a Japanese village childhood in the beginnings of industrialization. This is in fact a theme he has returned to so many times that I had started to assume that, in one way or another, all of his work would be a melancholy and nostalgic evocation etc. etc., even the science fiction story I have not read set in Antarctica. Some writers are like that, you know? But while I would not call this a major departure-- it is still a gently paced urban pastoral, after all-- it's not melancholy at all, and it left me smiling and feeling relaxed, which is, I believe, what it's for. If you are in a mood for something subtle and wordless and contemplative in which nothing particularly happens, this should do you nicely. Of course, if you aren't in that mood you will find this deadly boring, which is one reason I hadn't read it before, because I was expecting see above re: nostalgic evocation, and honestly I'm only in the mood for that maybe once a year. It's nice to get this instead, I have to say.


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