Sunday 15 September 2019

Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson - Mark Siegel (2012)

Rating: Excellent

I don't read many graphic novels, but when Sailor Twain was gifted to me from a friend who works in another library (it was a 'weeded' library discard...) and I was told that it was considered to be one of the classics of the genre I made a mental note to give it a read. A year later and with the need for something easy to read whilst on holiday Sailor Twain turned out to be a beguiling distraction. In the late 1800s Captain Twain sails on a large steam-ship ferrying pleasure-seeking passengers up and down the Hudson River. The ship's owner, Jacques - Henri de Lafayette, has gone missing and his brother, Diedonne, has taken his place. Twain has an uneasy relationship with the mysterious womanizing Diedonne, but becomes embroiled in his own secrets when he rescues an injured mermaid and hides her in his cabin. Their ensuing relationship becomes central to the narrative and also a rich source of poignancy. Twain is an engaging every-man character, whose kindheartedness leads him into the literal and psychologically murky waters (yes...) of the beautiful mermaid of the Hudson River.

Sailor Twain works so well because the narrative is complex, with intriguing characters and allusions to literature, culture, history and myth. The story is satisfying on many levels and features an ending that is both final and ambiguous, which is difficult to achieve. The artwork is darkly beautiful and is responsible for much of the narrative tension, with most panels featuring a deep level of detail, both with the characters themselves and the settings.

Sailor Twain encourages slow and careful reading, with the artwork drawing (yes...) you into the narrative in enticing ways. I also took my time because I was enjoying it so much that I didn't want it to end. Siegel has a way of illustrating characters that seems simple and yet captures their essence perfectly. The atmosphere is shadowy, it always seems to be raining and the mermaid and the river have an almost Gothic allure that is addictive. Most of all it made me wish that mermaids were real, and perhaps they are...

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