The Absence is a classic case of not judging a book by its cover. The front of this tome makes it look like a horror story, bearing a picture of a man with no lips, forced into a cadaverous grin. In fact, the book is something broader and far less generic, a literary mystery, with elements of horror and the supernatural, but underplayed and subtly delivered. It does, however, feature a protagonist with no lips.
Set just after World War II, the story revolves around Marston Clay, the only young man in the village to return from the conflict. Unfortunately, he’s also the town pariah, universally despised by the rest of the townsfolk. Interestingly, this appears to have nothing to do with his deformity (he’s the one who has lost his lips) but is because of a dark secret that no-one dares to speak of.
The book is full of dark secrets, mysterious men and deep foreboding. It’s a masterfully told story, dropping twist after twist into its swirling, shifting brew, right up to its final moments; but still managing to disentangle it all before it ends. It’s well complemented by the black and white art, which is scratchy and coarse, but captures the gloomy undercurrent of the story perfectly.
It possibly isn’t a story for everyone as some of the book’s mysteries seem unnecessarily drawn out and the supernatural creeps in towards the end, taking some of the edge off its big reveal. However, if you want interesting characters and compelling, grown-up, powerful comics, it’s one of this year’s more interesting releases.