Review: A Gift For A Ghost HC GN
Borja González's debut graphic novel is an engaging exercise in less-is-more, an enigmatic blending of simple and clean Mike Mignola-esque line styles along with the vague wandering ennui of 90's underground comix. If you're looking for a more linear and easily explainable story then you'll probably not be too interested in this book, but if you want a more personable time jumping mystery that allows you to revisit it each time with different interpretations then this might be your jam.
The story bounces between two different points in time, following young aristocrat Teresa in 1856 and Laura in 2016. Teresa meets a sad skeleton in the woods that mysteriously and suddenly disappears after they have a brief discussion. Laura in 2016 hangs out with her two friends as they try to form a punk band called The Black Holes. They have no talent, and mostly just hang out and wander around.
The book bounces between the two timelines, highlighting how each girl is discontent with their life. Teresa's issues are bit more stressed as she struggles to express herself through her gothic poetry and she's held back by her family.
Laura's struggles seem less oppressive, but still it's clear that she's not comfortable in her own skin as she's constantly represented in costumes throughout the book.
The stories never really carry any tension towards a clear climax, or any real normal sense of plot structure. We're given a few points of development and minor interpersonal tensions in each time period, and even a few devices that indicate that there's something at work to connect these different worlds.
When I mentioned that this was an exercise in less-is-more I meant it in most conceivable ways. González's choice to make everyone faceless, while making it difficult to follow who is who at times, goes a long way in creating a sense of abstract and undeveloped identity throughout the book. In the meantime, there's a careful attention to detail in the natural world around the characters, offering an interesting contrast that gives you a sense of the vastness of nature and time that dwarfs any sense of human identity. And as Scott McCloud highlighted in Understanding Comics, as you reduce the representation of human identity to the bare minimum it tends to make everything you read featuring that simple iconography slightly more identifiable.
You could map out some possible cyclical arcs as each timeline seems to influence the other, but in the end this is definitely the kind of book that requires you to bring your own interpretations. And while I generally can be a bit impatient with works like that, I found that González's gentle lines and soothing color palettes put the ambiguity into an enjoyable focus, and that in the end this feels more like a story of shared experiences and emotions that defy the restraints of linear time.