November 14th, 2011

Fish + Chocolate

Written and drawn by Kate Brown | Published by Self Made Hero

Review by Bernice Watson

Kate Brown describes the stories in Fish + Chocolate as horror but while they are undeniably haunting they are also captivatingly beautiful. Made up of three short stories (The Piper Man, The Cherry Tree, and Matryoshka) Fish + Chocolate explores motherhood, loss, and grief in stories that are both surreal and familiar. The dichotomy between the everyday and the disturbingly strange is reflected in the book’s title and it eloquently captures the major themes this volume explores.

Brown’s illustrations are deceptively soft and her colours have a gorgeous half tone that brings to mind slightly faded photographs of childhood. When reading, I felt a slight twinge of nostalgia for my own suburban childhood evoked especially by The Piper Man that speaks beautifully of day-to-day family life in a single parent home. Brown’s use of body language and facial expression to convey the subtler points of the story is masterful and precludes the need for excessive dialogue.

One element that I particularly enjoyed in Fish + Chocolate is the way that Brown makes vivid use of silence in the stories. Combined with the frequent use of non-verbal sounds, a tap dripping or the sound of cutlery against plates at the dinner table, she creates a tension that is almost palpable as you read. Such silences create a space in which the reader can really connect with the characters and their situations without the distraction of conversational dialogue.

My favourite of the three stories in Fish + Chocolate was undoubtedly The Piper Man. As mentioned above it not only struck a personal chord for me in the bittersweet way that it portrayed a solo parent home but it also had a deliciously creepy vibe. The ambiguity of the mysterious man, the anxiety of the adults, and the fascination of the children combined to create a situation that was both emotionally loaded and deeply disturbing in an ambiguous, understated way.

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