There are many things that a graphic novel can depict better than almost any other medium, but representing music has to be one of the more difficult tasks for an artist. The new biography; Glenn Gould: A Life Off Tempo by Sandrine Revel, uses interesting techniques to bring his music to life on the page. Yet it’s the depiction of Gould’s singular personality that shines through in this unique graphic biography.

The non-linear story starts with Gould’s stroke near the end of his life. From there, we are presented with flashbacks, surrealistic dream sequences and somber panels depicting his many health problems to describe his unique, perfectionist personality. The frequent time jumps seem random, but there is a subtle thread through the story of a sensitive boy who loves animals, is frequently sick and nauseous, and yet musically talented and creative. Scenes of him as a young man reveal a musician gaining confidence and eschewing concert performances for the pleasures of the recording studio, which allowed for unprecedented control of how his music sounded. Eventually, Gould is revealed to be many things: reclusive, hypochondriac, perfectionist, depressive and steel-willed. He was clearly a musical genius and one of the top musicians of his generation.

Some might find the time jumping and fantasy sequences distracting or confusing, but I enjoyed them as they gave me insight into Gould’s personality by connecting particular behaviors and quirks over time in a unique way. Gould often would make noise while he played which could be heard on his recordings, so he dons a gas mask at one point to mute his auditory clicks. From there, Revel depicts him with different masks during fantasy sequences that become symbols.

Revel’s hand painted panels are simple and uncluttered. Yet they expertly portray Gould at many stages of his life. She also effectively differentiates all the people in Gould’s life as well. I never had difficulty telling the characters apart. She uses a darker palette of colors primarily to depict the somber mood throughout, but the color red becomes symbolic as every few pages there is a striking image that jumps off the page with its redness. Sometimes it’s blood, a curtain, or the background behind Gould when he’s playing a piece. Red becomes an important symbol in a fantasy sequence near the end of the book as well.

I learned a great deal about Glenn Gould from this biography and it would be a great addition to any adult collection in a public library, particularly those with strong non-fiction collections. Anyone interested in a good biography or music history in particular would find this interesting. This book is best for an adult audience, though there is no sex or violence that would prohibit younger readers with a strong interest in music from enjoying the book.

Glenn Gould: a Life Off Tempo
by Sandrine Revel
ISBN: 97811681120652
NBM Nantier Beall Minoustchine, 2016

  • Mark

    | He/Him Young Adult Librarian, Cedar Mill Library


    Mark Richardson is the Young Adult Librarian at the Cedar Mill Library in Portland Oregon where he selects adult and young adult graphic novels, YA fiction & nonfiction, video games and adult music for the library. He also plans lots of activities for local teens ranging from art contests to teen trivia to Pokemon parties. If this sounds like a dream job, it is. Sometimes he has to pinch himself to make sure he really gets to do all of this. He’s been reading comics for as long as he can remember and has been known to present an occasional conference sessions on graphic novels at the Oregon Library Association’s annual conference.

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