Alone occupies that beautiful space in the world of stories that arguably can only really be filled by graphic novels. There’s not a lot going on here but it’s spread across more than 350 richly illustrated pages that are well worth savouring.
The story is about a hermit, who has lived in an isolated lighthouse, entirely cut off from the mainland, for his whole life. An arrangement with a fisherman, set up by the hermit’s lighthouse keeper father before he died, sees that a couple of boxes of supplies are delivered to the oceanic outpost every week, but they’re left on the lighthouse’s tiny quay and the two never meet. However, when the fisherman employs a quietly inquisitive crew member, he becomes a gentle catalyst of change.
Back in the lighthouse we’re slowly introduced to the hermit’s life, which is a habitual ritual of fishing (both for food and for discarded detritus from the mainland) and reading from a dictionary. The latter is done at random, also ritualistically: a word is chosen, then the hermit will bring the definition to life in his imagination, often interpreting things slightly awkwardly (for the comedic benefit of the reader) because of his limited frame of reference.
As a result the story has a gentle ebb and flow to it, almost entirely rendered in illustration with very few spoken words. However, it’s the detail of the illustration that lifts this simple story into something truly magical. We follow the flight of a seagull as it soars around the lighthouse; gaze into the eyes of the crewman as he contemplates and computes the implications of the unseen hermit’s situation; and eavesdrop on the hermit’s thoughts as he builds a picture of an unknown world based on drifting garbage and dictionary definitions.
I’ve already said too much. This is a book to explore and enjoy yourself. Chabouté’s stunning pen and ink illustration is all about contrast, beautifully and consistently presented on every page of the book. Although there are few words, you’ll want to pore over it, drink it in, and embrace the gentle pace that Chabouté has created. Find a comfortable armchair on a quiet evening and relish the captivating, glacial journey of a man who has never left his island lighthouse.