THE TENDERNESS OF STONES / AUTHOR: MARION FAYOLLE, GEOFFREY BROCK / PUBLISHER: THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: 3RD SEPTEMBER
Marion Fayolle’s exploration of a family’s attempts at grappling with the grief and loss of a loved one bears a surreal, fairytale quality. The graphic novel depicts the father figure of this particular family succumbing to an undisclosed illness with a focused yet fragile sense of retrospective narration. Parts of the father's body are gradually and carefully stripped away from him – starting with one of his lungs, he proceeds to lose his mouth, his nose, and ultimately rescinds into a childlike state. With the narrator’s father now trapped in a permanently pre-pubescent form, Fayolle’s narrative and visual style come into full play as her introspective storytelling and whimsical yet enlightened art carry the graphic novel’s emotions to the end.
Throughout The Tenderness of Stones, symbolism is the order of the day. Fayolle twists the sequential art form on its head to execute her symbolic representations of the narrator’s father’s slow, aching decline in health. From the narrator and her siblings cutting up speech bubbles spoken by their father as a representation of communicating for him and controlling his own words, to depicting the father himself as a rock formation that’s repeatedly eroded by a crashing tide to reflect his physical deformities, Fayolle explores some deeply visual depictions of how we’re initially presented with, process and ultimately accept the pain of losing someone we love. Her art itself is graceful, uncluttered and subtly evocative of the story’s detachment from reality.
Fayolle’s narrative is purposefully two-dimensional in detail and depth. She eloquently explores the wider idea verbally, but these explorations feel stripped back, skeletal in their unboxing of the psychological impact the father’s illness has on his family. It’s as if Fayolle’s sternly encouraging the reader to pay close attention to the artwork. However, the tangible power of The Tenderness of Stones is most apparent when art and narration go hand in hand in crafting this intimately odd story.
That low-key approach to detailing the themes and ideas make it a somewhat complex story to fully unfold. It runs the danger of failing to stretch beyond a surface-level contemplation of love, loss and mourning. Were it not for the superbly idiosyncratic style, it feels like that would certainly be the case. In any other form, The Tenderness of Stones wouldn’t deliver quite such an emotionally-charged impact. The counter-balance of the eccentric artwork with its universally raw emotions are the key to its creative success.
Fayolle delivers this heart-wrenching tale of drawn-out death in a trance-like state. Its almost mythical appearance and allegorical execution gives it a caressingly hypnotic vibe. It doesn’t have all the answers for dealing with grief, but that’s not what this comic’s about. Ultimately, it’s about dealing with the consequences of knowing what’s coming, how disconnected we can become from our other loved ones when we retreat into ourselves as a way of assimilating the conflicting emotions within us when we know the inevitable loss will occur. A haunting joy with every turn of the page, The Tenderness of Stones is a handsome, delicate, masterful graphic novel.