By Chris Colbourn
SelfMadeHero’s translation of this Belgian-Dutch graphic novel feels particularly timely as the last three years of Brexit madness have soured a lot of young people’s relationships with older generations. When politics divides us, it can be easy to forget that the other side are real people too, with their own lives and emotions, and this book is about just that. Blossoms in Autumn, a collaboration of the veteran comic-book writer Zidrou and artist Aimée de Jongh, is a sympathetic, thoroughly humane and sadly necessary reminder that young people do not have a monopoly on love and sexuality.
The short, sweet story follows two people who think their lives are already over. Ulysses, a 59-year-old widower ‘downsized’ into early retirement from his career as a mover, finds himself feeling empty: looking for excuses to drop by his old workplace, trying to bump into acquaintances at the supermarket, relishing the polite conversation of his regular cashier. On one of his visits to his son’s surgery, hoping to see him after work, he strikes up a flirtatious conversation with the charming and vital Mediterranea Solenza. An ex-model, now cheesemaker, Mediterranea finds herself bereft by the recent death of her mother, after fighting a losing battle with cancer for the best part of a year. Now the oldest member of her family, she feels more than ever that in her early sixties, her body is failing her still-willing spirit. A brilliant two-page spread of skew-angled close-ups beautifully depicts her relationship with what she sees in the bathroom mirror- not Snow White, but the evil witch she never wanted to become.
The pair, each with their share of sadness and regrets, take the chance of a second bite at the apple, going on dates, sharing in each other’s histories and newly excited about making a future together as they give each other much-needed company and support in the latter part of their lives. Though a couple of cliché beats pulled me out of the story, they were not enough to spoil the whole, and de Jongh’s illustrations bring Zidrou’s story to life, with a loving quality to her lines and painterly colour palette marking her as one to watch. Their last-gasp relationship is echoed by a parabolic bedtime story Ulysses- self-professed hater of books- invents to entertain his lover: a fish that, after longing to see the horizon, is launched by a chance wave into a tree, where he meets his end happy, watching the sunset.