I’ve read A Taste of Chlorine three times. When I say read, what I really mean is open my eyes and let Bastien Vivés sumptuous visuals and sparing use of dialogue flow into my brain. This is a graphic novel that leans heavily on the graphic, rather than the novel. Regardless, Vivés uses his deft skill with pencil and ink to tell a heart-warming, though also saddening story.
Our unnamed “hero” of the book suffers from a curvature of his spine and on his chiropractor’s say, he takes up swimming to aid his body. What comes from this is a wonderful tale of admiration as the central character begins to fall for a young woman who he sees regularly at the swimming pool. It’s here that the majority of the story takes place.
Vivés uses his artwork tremendously as he plots his hero through the panels in the book. The surrounding cast of extras are often “unattractive” in society’s common use of the word. Many of them are overweight or are drawn to appear uglier than the central cast. This is often used to accent the “hero’s” feeling of inadequacy and his lack of confidence in the greater world.
Nobody is drawn with more beauty, however, than the leading lady of the book. The girl becomes the object of affection for our “hero” as they begin a friendship with a few words here and there, often stunted by the central character. As the book proceeds they become closer and the reader becomes even more engaged with their story. Will they ever meet outside of the pool? Will our “hero” ever tell her how he feels?
The book doesn’t feature a great deal of dialogue but what is here accompanies the imagery perfectly. Conversations are often just snatches of half-hearted sentences, although full of meaning. People who enjoy their graphic novels with plenty of obvious storytelling or littered with speech bubbles will likely give this up as a frustrating, but beautiful book.
It’s an intriguing piece of art in that many panels feature shots of the silent pools roof, or our “hero” just floating in the water, or of him swimming lengths. But as you’re looking at each picture you get a sense of his self exclusion from the open world and how much of his life revolves around his health and he is ultimately closed in by it.
I certainly look forward to seeing what Vivés creates next as A Taste of Chlorine is a simple yet evocative take on loneliness, seclusion and self doubt. Wonderful, if slightly limiting storytelling.
A Taste of Chlorine is available now