Book Review: A Taste of Chlorine by Bastien Vivès
(Jonathan Cape) £16.99
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams
Originally published in France in 2008, A Taste of Chlorine won the prestigious Essential Révélation prize, awarded to the most outstanding new talent, the following year at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême, Europe’s largest festival of graphic novels and comic book art held every January in the town in south west France. At the time Bastien Vivès was just short of his 26th birthday and the book was his third published work. All of which adds another layer to the accomplishment of this beautifully realised book.
Finally giving in to the repeated requests of his chiropractor to take up swimming, a teenage boy, suffering from curvature of the spine, begins going to his local pool every Wednesday. At first he finds not only the exercise hard going but also the environment to be just as hard, cold, anonymous, and uninviting. But then he meets an enigmatic, pretty girl, whose Arena swimwear, he rightly deduces, signifies that she has been a competitive swimmer. Their friendship develops hebdomadally, with few words, predominantly through touch and demonstration as she helps him improve his swimming technique. As they get closer and his prowess increases, so the swimming pool becomes a softer, more intimate space, with the other users fading into the background.
But when he seeks to find out more about his muse, she is evasive to his questions, finally mouthing something to him underwater, which she promises to elucidate the following week, only to then not show up that week, or the week after…
A Taste of Chlorine is a wonderfully engrossing book, with few words, Vivès’ artwork, in ripple-edged frames and a muted palette, predominantly of aquamarine, draws one in, almost imperceptibly until, in parallel to the closing underwater scenes, one finds one has become completely submerged by the characters and their simple story beautifully told. And, like the boy, completely desirous to know more about the girl and as desperate to decipher what exactly it is she said underwater.