Mar 16, 2011

The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire

The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire

The Complete Essex County is a one-volume edition of three graphic novels set in Essex County, Ontario, which mostly deal with the lives of the members of a small rural community. The first book, “Tales From the Farm”, tells the story of young Lester Papineau, who goes to live on his uncle’s farm after his mother dies of cancer. Lester spends his days drawing his own comics and daydreaming of becoming a cartoonist. His life at the farm is very lonely – until he befriends a former hockey player, Jimmy, who works at the local gas station. Only there’s some history between Jimmy and Lester’s uncle, and for this reason the latter has some reservations about their developing friendship.

Volume two, “Ghost Stories”, opens with an elderly man reminiscing about his life, particularly his relationship with his brother. Mr Lou LeBeuf and his brother Vince were once inseparable. But after they moved to Toronto to play hockey, something happened that made it impossible for their relationship to ever be the same again. The third and final volume, “The Country Nurse”, focuses on Anne Byrne. As a nurse, she has access to many of the community’s secrets, and she sees people in more painful and vulnerable positions than they’d like to be seen. Volume three sees the three storylines come together beautifully, as secrets dating back to several generations are finally revealed.

Essex County

I now understand why Essex County is so often mentioned in the same breath as Craig Thompson’s Blankets: both are quiet, understated and very human stories, told in sparse and subtle styles that are nonetheless full of emotion. Essex County is a book full of silences and wide spaces. It’s well worth taking time over, as very often a single details in Jeff Lemire’s illustrations is what makes an entire panel stand out.

My favourite thing about the trilogy was probably the depth of Lemire’s characterisation. Sometimes a single exchange, or even a single dialogue-free panel, is enough to reveal a character
’s whole history, the entire dimension of their unspoken sorrow, and thus to fully humanise them in the reader’s eyes. The characters that people Essex County are often hurt, anguished people, but not in at all in a heroic or romanticised sort of way. They’re ordinary people doing their best to deal with loneliness, grief, family secrets, failed attempts to connect with others, losses and disappointments; all in everyday and very human ways.

Essex County

Jeff Lemire is a writer of astonishing sensibility, and Essex County is often incredibly moving. I loved it.

Essex County

Essex County

Other points of view:
An Adventure in Reading
Monniblog
So Many Previous Books, So Little Time (one, two and three)
Lavender Lines
Buried in Print

(Have I missed yours?)

23 comments:

  1. This looks so good. My library has the first one, Tale from the Farm. I'll have to get over there this weekend and check it out.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That first picture is so moving, and has me thinking a whole lot. I would love to check out this series and see what I think of it, because you make it sound quite powerful and moving.

    ReplyDelete
  3. My review of Essex County is scheduled to post tomorrow :) I had much the same reaction you did - love!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm so excited to read this book, even though graphic novels aren't generally a format I'm drawn to, but I'm so far down the hold list at my library! Many more weeks of waiting ahead of me, but it sounds like my patience will be well rewarded.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This looks fantastic! As soon as I read your post I went to see if they have it in my library system. No luck! They don't have Blankets either. My entire council system only has action hero type graphic novels. :(

    ReplyDelete
  6. A picture really does say a thousand words. This book sounds really good!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I really want to read this. I saw it at the bookstore the other day, but am just going to wait for the library. I have bought too many books lately!

    ReplyDelete
  8. My geography is terrible. I didn't know there was another Essex. I was thinking this doesn't sound like the Essex I grew up in then realised it is Ontario. Eeek. I love your graphic novel choices and will definitely look out for this.

    ReplyDelete
  9. That looks so great, I love the "Hey kid" panel, the composition and the shadow are fantastic. I'm glad you introduced me to this one. Now I only have to find a copy, the library is probably getting tired of all the emails I sent them about acquiring books :D

    ReplyDelete
  10. This sounds perfectly lovely and yet another one to add to my graphic novels to be read list.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I have to admit, I have all of Jeff Lemire's books in our library, and while I purchased them for the collection, I haven't read them all. Liked reading your post -- and now off to grab the books for a read. :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Lovely review, Ana! I am adding this to my 'TBR' list now :) Jeff Lemire seems to be a wonderful artist! I loved all the pictures from the book that you have posted!

    Your observation "very often a single detail in Jeff Lemire’s illustrations is what makes an entire panel stand out" made me remember a graphic novel called 'Asterios Polyp' by David Mazzucchelli, which I liked very much. Have you read it?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Nan: Enjoy! Hopefully you'll be able to convince them to get the others :P

    Zibilee: Yes, isn't it? Lemire's artwork says so much.

    Lu: Can't wait to read it!

    Claire, I hope that when your turn comes you'll enjoy it as much as I did :)

    Kristi: Boo :( I couldn't get them for a library either, so I just put them on my Christmas list last year and the one before. It took two Christmas to get them both, but it was worth the wait :P

    Kathy: Sometimes it really does :)

    Kelly: I hope it won't take too long for your turn to come! It seems that the book is quite popular at the moment, probably because of Canada Reads. I'm glad it's been brought to te attention of so many readers even though it was voted out!

    Vivienne: Ha - I still get confused about "London, Ontario" myself :P

    Bina: Yes! I love that one too. And don't worry - if the librarians I know are anything to go by, they actually love active and interested users like you :P

    Kathleen, I think you'd adore it!

    Jo: Enjoy!

    Vishy: I haven't, but it's been on my wishlist for a while! Sounds like I should get to it sooner rather than later, as your recommendations never steer me wrong :P

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow. I can't tell you how happy I am to already own this one, because I would definitely have to go buy it if I didn't. I've read and really enjoyed both The Nobody and the first of the Sweet Tooth comics by him, but I have to say this sounds even more amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Debi, you'll enjoy it for sure :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Although I was quite impressed by Craig Thompson's Blankets, I think the stories in Jeff Lemire's collection should have an even wider appeal, largely because the cast of characters is relatively diverse. When I first picked up the first volume, I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy it, because the art didn't immediately appeal, but the storytelling took hold, and now I can't imagine the pictures being any other way. I hope it finds many more readers thanks to your post!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thanks so much for the link love. I adored this series and didn't want to end. I hadn't heard of Blankets before, I just added it to my TBR.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Buried in Print: I can definitely see your point about the wider appeal. It seems that Canada Reads has brought it to the attention of many readers, which makes me very happy!

    Teddy Rose: I didn't want it to end either. And I hope you enjoy Blankets as much as I did!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Wow, this is not what I expected this comic was. In my mind it was more like Bone, for some reason, which I wasn't crazy about. Also it's always checked in at the library at home, and that's made me think it's no good. Not really a fair criterion to apply! :p But I'll go check it out now.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I loved Blankets, so I'm glad to hear that this one compares to that! I'm going to add this to my list. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I've only read a couple of graphic novels this year. I didn't love them and didn't review them, either. I am looking forward to getting back into them and reading ones that really impress me- this sounds like a great one. I love the art, too- like Zibilee, I find that first panel very striking.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Jenny: lol, I've been known to assume similar things :P But yeah, definitely nothing like Bone! I hope you enjoy it.

    Aths: Thank you! I hope you'll enjoy it.

    Aarti: Sorry you're not having much luck with GNs this year! I hope this will be the one that will break the spell :P I agree with you and Heather - such a moving panel.

    ReplyDelete
  23. The comparison to Blankets has me intrigued! Will be checking it out.

    ReplyDelete

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.