The Late Child and Other Animals is an intriguing beast: a personal memoir of Marguerite Van Cook’s post-war British childhood that reads like lush fiction, segmented into seemingly unrelated stories that drift in and out of sharp focus. There’s a second-hand memory of her mother’s tragedies and losses during World War II, a countryside idyll, a predatory post-dance class encounter, and an adolescent summer spent in France. All of it seems to echo, again and again, that nature is at once brutal and breathtaking, and that human nature, too, can be both vicious and valorous.
The lingering feeling of The Late Child is sensual, especially of scent—the dry summer air heavy with the dust of wheat fields and wildflowers, musty, dark city streets with rain slowly pattering down, a feast to end all feasts in the French countryside. I could almost smell and taste and touch each of these moments because of the impressive visuals. James Romberger’s painterly illustration style full of dark flowing lines and rich, luscious colorwork fill each page of The Late Child, threatening to overwhelm you, immersing you in the experiences of her youth. The style initialy reminded me of Nate Powell’s intricate and immersive illustrations of Middle American adolescent despair in works like Swallow Me Whole, but Van Cook and Romberger’s mid-century English setting and elegiac intent gave it a very different feel.
If there is anything to complain about in this book, it’s that it is overly moody, and the moments don’t quite connect to one another. The stories are snapshots of a childhood rather than a memoir with a predictable arc. But there’s some truth to that perspective—life being lived in fits and starts, particular moments in sharp relief against the murkiness of memory. The Late Child is powerful, lovely, and captures very well, both visually and conceptually, how growing up means learning to negotiate the wild emotional terrain of the world beyond one’s self, with all the injustice, danger, and delight that it stands to offer.
Note: Review corrected at the request of the reviewer and James Romberger, 05/24/2015
The Late Child and Other Animals
Written and colored by Marguerite Van Cook
Adapted and drawn by James Romberger