By Frederik Peeters
“Our heroine, Carice, is visiting her husband – she has something important to tell him. He’s a diplomat, who’s lying in hospital following a car accident. Stuck in a traffic jam on her way to the hospital, she abandons her car and sets off on foot on a journey that turns into a surreal trip. Imagine a David Lynch film co-written by Chuck Palahniuk, Jean-Paul Sartre and Milan Kundera. This edition of Pachyderme has a foreword written by Moebius.”
This one pushed all the right buttons. I had a feeling it would.
Last time I saw Peeters’ artwork was with Sandcastle, written by Pierre Oscar Levy, but this is Peeters flying solo, and it should come as little surprise to find the artist telling a story that is incredibly rich in visual surreality, something truly beautiful to view.
But just because Peeters the artist fills his pages with beauty and disturbing imagery, Peeters the writer is not tempted to sit back. In fact, here with Pachyderme there’s plenty of story, and free-flowing natural dialogue abounds between the fascinating cast of characters. Everything works together to create something absolutely intense, a surreal, dreeamlike experience that Peeters throws about with such control.
Yes, it’s an artist’s story, but whilst some artist’s who write create nothing but visual wonder loosely held together with a bland, perfunctory story, there are those who utilise every bit of visual ingenuity and style they possess but then step up and create something dramatic that reads as beautifully as it looks. Thankfully Peeters is one of the latter.
In Pachyderme the entire story begins with the elephant, collapsed in the road, the ensuing traffic jam preventing Carice reaching the hospital just 20 minutes over the nearest hill, where her husband lies after a serious accident.
Needing to get to him, she leaves the car and strikes out up that hill. That twenty minute journey changes her world. Completely. In ways she just can’t imagine…..
Inside the hospital Carice’s reality seems to fracture and breakdown, the dead speak with familiar voice, secret police with comedy features are after a mysterious file, her husband can’t be found, there’s a letter she needs to deliver, but so much else gets in her way. She stumbles from one surreal event to another, uncertain of where she is, determined to find her way, but forces all about her seem intent on taking her along a long and winding surreal trip to an ending that is beautifully vague and open to interpretation.
Simply put, Pachyderme is a magnificent roller-coaster of emotional intensity, one of those narratives that grasps the mind, quickens the pulse, and simply doesn’t let go until the very end. Yes, there’s all that Lynchian influence thing going on, intentional or not, but influences worked out this well aren’t something to complain about.
So, Pachyderme is full of incredible imagery, visual flights of fancy, but most of all, the story has a sense of acceleration into madness, of falling, with Carice, down a rabbit-hole of sorts, that’s powerful, intoxicating even, and genuinely results in a book where this reader felt compelled to finish, yet unsettled, off-balance the entire time.
The epitome of this happens in the sequence towards the end of the book between Carice and the womanising surgeon.
On looking back, I was shocked to realise this is a mere fifteen pages, yet when reading them the first time it was so complex, so enthralling, so involved that it felt so much longer. That’s Peeters’ masterful control of timing and pace at work, to make Pachyderme so incredibly rich and involved, so breathless and out of control, yet everything, including the reader’s experience of his work, is planned out, meticulously, perfectly, beautifully, to create something disturbing and marvellous.
Pachyderme is a masterpiece of visual and narrative storytelling. But hell, you knew that. Moebius says as much right there in the introduction.