Beautiful Darkness, Fanian Vehlmann & Kerascoët, 98 pgs, Drawn & Quarterly, drawnandquarterly.com, $22.95
Vehlmann and Kerascoët’s Beautiful Darkness is a disarmingly dark fairy tale gone wrong. It’s something like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by way of William Golding and Freudian analysis. It’s also one of the more effectively haunting books I’ve read this year.
As tender, proper Aurora is serving cake and hot chocolate to her guest, the princely Hector, the world around her starts to melt and come apart. Fighting through a sea of blood, she eventually stumbles out of what appears to be the nostril or ear canal of a much larger creature—a girl, dead in the wilderness. Alongside Aurora, a number of other figures of all different shapes and sizes crawl out from the deceased host’s various orifices, emerging into a dark world that dwarfs them in every respect. Thrust unexpectedly into the wild, the diminutive characters—each at one point embodying a different facet of the host’s personality—attempt to understand and survive in their new surroundings.
Beautiful Darkness has a not-so-secret weapon: its art. The soft, understated watercolour work of the husband-and-wife duo Kerascoët is as charming as it is disturbing. The first full image of the host dead on her back in the rain is immediately evocative of Gulliver’s Travels; similarly, as Aurora’s manufactured community slowly unravels, the background imagery of the host’s gradual decomposition casts a distressing pall over everything.
Death in Beautiful Darkness is treated as a casual occurrence, which only increases the terror bubbling beneath each and every panel. What is left unsaid—chiefly, the manner of the host’s demise—quietly undermines what strength remains in Aurora by the book’s end. This is a work of implied horror, deftly executed. (Andrew Wilmot)