|The End by Anders Nilsen |
Nilesen's last completed work is the truly monumental Big Questions, his decade in the making masterpiece of mythology and people and birds and snakes and things, falling from the sky. The End (in stores today), in comparison, is very slight. It is a brief read, less a graphic novel than a hodgepodge of odds and ends, short stories and snippets of sketchbooks from a year in the life of the author. But the specifics of the why of that year and the why of the work itself are important - it chronicles, in words and images, the author's attempts at processing the slow and painful death of his fiancee. This isn't a non-fictional description of grief written after the fact, this is grief, unfiltered and complete.
There are stretches of material where Nilsen talks to the ghost of the deceased, or at least some mirror of his lost love locked in his own psyche ("I don't know, I'm dead, I'm just saying what you're thinking" 'She' says). There are stark almost gag-illustrations of the author struggling to get through the mundanities of life only to repeatedly break down. There are airy explorations of life beyond grief bounded by unflinching textual portrayals of a human life ending, withering away in a mess of tubes and disease and torment. Nilsen presents it all in his distinct, minimalist style, with almost no use of visual literalism, instead almost entirely relying on empty, indistinct humanoid figures interacting in spare, empty environments.
The acuteness of the despair make the more artistic, more interpretable sections stand out, and maybe I would have preferred more of them. The best sequences are where Nilsen breaks away from the heartbreaking emotional literalism and opens out into almost abstract expressions of the nature of grief. Here we see the human figure devolved by their grief and broken math, splitting out into fractals of loss that form into unsolvable mazes. The abstract imagery allows the reader to think about and mull and contemplate loss itself. But when presented with the specificity of Nilsen's loss, it takes you out of the work, from the realm of intellectual participant to uncomfortable observer.
But my views and yours really don't matter. The End is a vehicle for Nilsen to come to terms with his grief, and in that it succeeds (we just get to watch - I still don't know if that's a good thing or not). Grief and despair never really goes away, you just get to a point where it doesn't take over your life any more. And by the end of The End that happens, the abstract image of the lost disappearing along with the navel-gazing image of the author. The End ends and you are happy, because Nilsen doesn't have to go through this anymore, and thankfully neither do you.