Conundrum Press, May 2013
184 pages, $20 (Hardcover)
Reviewed by Stephanie Fung.
Published in Ricepaper 18.1, Summer 2013.
Reading Chihoi’s graphic novel The Library is not “like reading someone else’s dreams,” as the back cover states, but more like reading our own. They’re dreams that you and I have had, dreams about life and death, dreams we have all dreamt but never said aloud. Our silences are broken through the whimsical emotions and profound conversations offered through the stories in this book.
Chihoi, a young Hong Kong artist, is a poet of few words and his pencil drawings speak so vividly of the melancholy, happiness, suffering and anxieties of everyday life that we don’t know where our dreams end and reality begins. The smudged drawings suggest the blurring between being awake and sleeping (or are we awake and dreaming?). Although the stories are simple (e.g. a girl who commits suicide after moving away from home, a man who immolates himself after his wife dies, a father who tells his son to bury him), there are pauses in the conversations—doubts and murmurs that flitter among the images. Reminiscent of Kafka, the moments captured in these stories give us space to reflect on the meaning of life—and death. Perhaps the ways of living are also ways of dying, a common theme that is explored through these narratives.
Chihoi has an obsession with staircases, mazes and secret locked rooms that lead to more hidden rooms, as if we are trapped and can find no way out. His surrealist imagery and thoughtful writing combine to create a conceptual world, both dreamlike and familiar so that when we reach the last page, where an old man just wakes up gasping for life after dreaming that his wife passed away, we aren’t sure where we really are, where we are going, or how we got here at all.