Feb 26, 2009

Black Hole by Charles Burns

How do I even begin to describe Black Hole? Seattle, 1970s. A sexually transmitted virus has been affecting local teenagers. The virus causes different symptoms in each victim, but basically it causes mutations. Mutations that can go from completely disfiguring to somewhat discreet, like growing a tail or an extra mouth on your lower neck. The story mainly revolves around two protagonists: Chris and Keith, a girl and a guy. Their stories are interconnected, as are the stories of several other teenagers, some suffering from the plague, some untouched by it.

Maybe this initial description reminded you of Peeps aka Parasite Positive, but the two books are really nothing alike. In Black Hole, the virus isn’t really at the centre of the story. This isn’t a plot-oriented story; it’s a story about what these characters are feeling and going through. And the plague is just…there. Part of it, somehow. Not even a catalyst, but more of a physical manifestation of inner turmoil. I read an interview in which Charles Burns said he imagined it as a sort of metaphor for adolescence itself, for growing up, for changing so much so fast you get to a point where you no longer recognize yourself. I think that looking at it in those terms makes a lot of sense.

Black Hole is a strange book. It has a bit of a horror story feel to it, but, even though it can be disturbing at times, I wouldn’t call it horror. It’s really a story about being young and dealing with confusion, alienation, loneliness, identity crises, sexuality, loss. About growing up and changing and growing apart from people you still love but can’t seem to communicate with anymore.

The unique black and white art certainly contributes to the book’s strangeness. I can’t even think of how to describe it, which is why I’m showing you instead. When I finished Black Hole, all I could think about was how strange it was. Not in a bad way, mind you, but it still took me a day or two to realize just how much I’d really enjoyed it. This is a book where mood plays a very big role, and the mood of the story stayed with me. I keep thinking about the last few pages in particular, which I found very touching. Not everyone will enjoy Black Hole, I’m sure. But if you like stories that are dark and meaningful and eerie, and if you're in the mood for something a little different, consider giving it a try.

I first heard of this book when Dewey reviewed it, and at the time she mentioned that Neil Gaiman was working on the script for an upcoming movie. When I finished the book I was more excited about the movie than ever, but sadly it seems that he’s no longer working on the project. Black Hole is one of those stories that definitely have to be changed if they are to work on the big screen, but I was hoping for something that, even if not faithful to the book plot-wise, would be very faithful to it in mood and tone. And I’m sure Neil Gaiman would have done a wonderful job. Ah well. I still hope that the movie will be a good one.

Other Opinions:
The Hidden side of a Leaf
The Written World

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. I love the books you find. They are always so different and interesting.

  2. Well it sounds like something I would enjoy! Onto the wishlist! You're on an STD kick, aren't you Nymeth? lol

  3. You are bad for my TBR list. This has also been added. :)

    The black and white illustrations are awesome.

  4. Scrap Girl: I guess I'm always on the lookout for something a little different!

    Chris: lmao! "On an STD kick"...I won't ask you if you have any idea of how wrong that sounds, because I'm sure you do :P It totally wasn't on purpose...I had no idea what this was about, only that the art seemed cool and that Dewey had liked it. And yes, I definitely think you'd enjoy it!

    Nely: They are, aren't they? I guess this kind of art isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I love it too.

  5. OMGOSH, OMGOSH, OMGOSH...I'm sooooo excited...I just got this book last week! I'd never heard of it and just ordered it on a whim when I was ordering Bone. Oh man, I'm more eager than ever to get to it now! I just have a feeling I'm going to love it.

    I'm not sure if it makes me sad that I haven't read Dewey's review yet, or if it makes me happy because it means there may be more posts of hers that I've missed and may discover when I'm over there visiting sometime.

    "STD kick"...he's got a point there, Nymeth. ;)

  6. Ohh I read this about 3 years ago, and I remember really liking it but that's about all. Now I really want to re-read it - I love when that happens :)

  7. Wow, that sounds...wierd. But I like weird :)

  8. You had me at "Seattle, 1970s." :)

  9. You read some of the most interesting and weird stuff out there. :)

  10. Sounds and looks fantastic. I like books like this so I'm truly interested in reading it!! Thanks for bringing it to our attention!!

  11. I read this one a few years ago, definitely on the different side! I checked it out from the library and remember thinking now here's one I don't have to own. I mean I liked it but yeah I don't know.

  12. I don't think I've ever read something like that! Sounds dark and creepy to me... but I've to admit the illustrations are 'powerful'. (I could not think of any words to describe it!) ;)

  13. Debi: lol, you and Chris are terrible...terrible, I tell you! And how exciting that you have it already :D Can't wait to hear what you think.

    Joanne: I do too! I seriously should devote more time to re-reading.

    Lenore: So do I!

    saveophelia: I found the setting very interesting. I hope you enjoy the book!

    Alice: I actually bet there are EVEN weirder things out there :P But this just might be my limit...any more weird would be TOO weird.

    Staci, you're welcome! I hope you enjoy it.

    Alea: I know what you mean. Some books make me feel like that too. I was glad to have bought this one, though.

    Melody: It IS dark and creepy...but I'm a fan of dark and creepy :P

  14. wow, you sure have a knack for unearthing the strangest books. :-) Sounds eerie alright - I'd be willing to try it though, since I liked what black and white illustrations brought to the persepolis story... although I realise that this would be completely different!

  15. Ooh, the description alone is creeping me out but the illustrations really make a statement.

  16. this does sound like a strange and interesting read, great review.


  17. Strange works for me. I think I'll enjoy this one a lot!

  18. Joanna: Yes, completely different, but also very much worth reading!

    Ladytink: They do, don't they?

    Naida, thanks!

    Lightheaded: I think you will too!

  19. Those illustrations are fantastic! I need to put this on the list for when I'm looking for more graphic novels.

  20. Well, I have to say that I'm very curious as to what exactly is being portrayed in those pictures (yes, I have an imagination...just not sure if it is going to very bad places), BUT also, that I am incredibly intrigued. I'm trying to make a mental list of the graphic novels that I need to check out--Fun Home, Hero, Maus, the new Satrapi--what else? Anyway, this just might make its way to the top of the list!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.