Review Blog

May 08 2013

Building stories by Chris Ware

cover image

Random House, 2012. ISBN 9780224078122.
(Age; Senior secondary) 'Books' are no longer books; groups of words and sentences arranged in a usually pleasing fashion on a set of papers bound together in a neat package. This is an era of ebooks, graphic novels, audio books, and books as pdfs, kindle and various other arrangements. The bottom-line is that in a book the words, phrases and sentences work together to tell a story, to inform or to educate. This 'book', Building Stories by cartoonist, Chris Ware, breaks many moulds. To begin with it is a box; a large, colourful box with intriguing images and lettering showing clever and careful design. On opening the satisfyingly solid box one encounters an even more intriguing assortment of books, pamphlets and papers of different sizes, weight and organisation covered with detailed and intriguing graphics. Through this medium this impressive work tells the stories of residents of an apartment block in Chicago.
As the residents go through their daily lives we are made privy to their thoughts, dreams, actions and most intimate activities. Every graphic is part of the larger story and leads the reader to make connections across the 'text'. The book is part puzzle, part graphic, part narrative and always engaging. It brings to mind the classic movie Rear Window, where James Stewart spends his wheelchair bound days watching his neighbours, discovering their secrets.
Chris Ware is highly talented cartoonist who shows a Dickensian feel for the minutiae (and misery) of ordinary life. Much of this book is about loss - loss of ideals and dreams, youth, partners and even body parts. For me, it is this which ultimately made the book so depressing. The voyeurism of this type of text reveals the intimacies between couples which many will feel belongs solely within a trusting relationship. These qualities lead me to recommend this book only to senior secondary students with the maturity to understand the complexity of people's motives and actions.
Diana Warwick

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