The Canadian creators of this graphic novel consider it first and foremost a ghost story. I do too, but not a usual rendering of a ghost tale beyond the haunted cabin in the spooky and remote woods and the deterioration of the protagonist’s grip on reality. At times stark and at others, extremely poetic, Idle Days is an anomaly, a steady-paced historical slice-of-life-style graphic novel that is at the same time introspective, horrific, and confining.

The script was written originally in French and translated into English in response to interest by publisher First Second. Jerome, a young Canadian soldier during World War II, returns to his small home town in Quebec after going AWOL from the army. Worried that he will be apprehended by authorities, Jerome’s mother sends him to his grandfather and the isolated tragedy-laden decaying cabin in the woods. Acclimatizing to his grandfather’s moodiness and lack of display of human warmth and the history of fire and suicides in the cabin he is helping his grandfather renovate, causes Jerome’s state of mind to deteriorate. His outlook is not aided by the fact that he is haunted equally by his war memories and the radio announcements of the ongoing war in Europe and the melancholy environment that is his imposed home.

The story is especially unnerving as the reader is not sure if the surreal threats are figments of Jerome’s imagination or actual ghostly phenomenon: a black cat, a dead woman, a witch, and perilous alcohol smugglers. As illustrator Simon LeClerc states in an interview: “The war and the fact that he’s a deserter mostly prevent him from getting out of the wood, trapping him in that house, pushing him further into his isolation; and that’s when the house starts playing tricks on his mind.”

LeClerc’s illustrations are muddy, atmospheric and filled with muted but brightly coloured illustrations. They are filled with texture, mystery, and the confusion that resides inside of Jerome’s perceptions and aspirations. The panel layout is effective in directing the varied elements of the story itself as the reader never gets a chance to become compliant with the pacing of this well told tale that resonates in angst and hope.

There is an underlying tone of violence throughout the entire tale, one that is dark with overtones and allusions of suicides, murder, unhappiness and war, that makes me think this title would be better suited to a more mature reading audience. There is nothing within the covers that would be unsuitable for a teen audience except, in my opinion, for the accumulated weight of the misery Jerome must confront in order to become whole again.

Idle Days
By Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau
Art by Simon Leclerc
ISBN: 9781626724587
First Second, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

  • Gail

    | She/Her Professor, Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta

    Reviewer

    In addition to teaching at the School of Library and Information Studies (University of Alberta) where she is an adjunct professor, Gail tells stories and conducts workshops on a wide variety of topics across Canada and the United States. Each year she teaches the following courses for the University of Alberta. All of her courses are delivered online: Storytelling, Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries, Canadian Children’s Literature for School and Public Libraries and Young Adult Literature. She also teaches a course on Indigenous Literature for the ATEP program (Aboriginal Teacher Education Program) at the University of Alberta. Gail is the award-winning author of nine books on storytelling and folklore in popular culture.

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