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August 14, 2007

Book Notes - Cathy Malkasian ("Percy Gloom")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Of all the graphic novels I have read this year, Cathy Malkasian's Percy Gloom is the one I have been consistently recommending to friends and family of all ages. Imagine Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth written by Tony Millionaire...

Of the book, Cory Doctorow wrote:

"This all has the charm of something like Howl's Moving Castle or Yellow Submarine, and Percy and his friends are drawn in a lovely, old-timey way that made me smile on every page. This is a big, solid, handsome hardcover."

In her own words, here is Cathy Malkasian's Book Notes essay for her graphic novel, Percy Gloom:

Giving Percy Gloom a song list has been a challenge. The story just doesn't seem to take well to lyrics, (with one exception: see Debussy below) and so I've been rooting through the rest of my collection. There are two songs, however, that speak to some of the themes running throughout the story: Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" ( the remastered LP version) and Shirley Horn's "Here's to Life". Both of these pieces have gorgeous arrangements that serve vocals of subtlety and lifetimes worth of wisdom.

Here are some pieces that would live well with the visuals...

1. Bernard Herrmann's "North by Northwest" Prelude. This is a well organized whirlwind. It expresses the tension and suspense the character Tammy creates.

2. Gershwin's: "Porgy and Bess" Overture. This is completely kinetic excitement. It spells out Percy's joy at finally making it to the "big time" : his long sought interview with Safely-Now Cautionary Writing Institute.

3. Bernard Herrmann's "Jane's departure" (from "Jane Eyre" soundtrack) really illustrates Percy's disappointments.

4. Mahler's Tenth symphony, 1st movement is gut-wrenching stuff, full of unfulfilled hopes and barely contained passions. It speaks for Percy's memories of his tragic marriage.

5. Once Percy gets enough distance to reflect on that time in his life I choose George Gershwin's "For Lily Pons". This is probably my favorite piece by Gershwin. It suggests a lot of emotional complexity and potential for new directions (in Gershwin's style, had he lived).

Both the Mahler and the Gershwin pieces were left unfinished by their composers, which seems to link them even more deeply to this part of the story.

6. Toru Takemitsu's: "Quotation of Dream" seems a good choice for Percy's growing hesitation in the marketplace, an unfamiliar underground hive.

7. After enduring more than a few trials, Percy regains some equilibrium in the gardens leading to his Mum's house. For this I choose John Cage's "Dream" with Steven Drury on piano.
This music breathes open space while suggesting hidden depths.

8. Percy's mother has, I imagine, very boisterous tastes in music, so I've chosen "Yodelling Overtures (Rossini/Bizet/Offenbach)" sung by Mary Schneider (Australia's queen of yodelling), and "La vie, l'amour" sung by Edith Piaf. These are strong and exuberant performances, a perfect backdrop to Mum's character.

9. When Percy gets some resolution regarding his father he takes a rather contemplative boat ride under the moon. I can't imagine a better song than Debussy's "Beau Soir", sung by Renee Fleming. This is just about the most perfect song and performance for this moment.

A close second would be the music to Ravel's "L'Enfant et les sortilèges : Il est bon, l'enfant, il est sage."

10. I am voting for Ravel again when Percy returns to the town and discovers yet another seeming disaster. "Ma Mère l'Oye : Apothéose : Le Jardin féerique. Lent et grave" has a gentleness to it, a kind of smiling acceptance at life's vagaries.

There is a goat song, too, and the goats in the story have been rehearsing it since the last solstice....

Cathy Malkasian and Percy Gloom links:

the book's website
the author at IMDb

excerpt from the book at New York magazine's The Comic Page
excerpt from the book at Wood Paneled Basement

The Comics Reporter review
Cory Doctorow review
Panels and Pixels review
Publishers Weekly review

ComicBookBin interview with the author
Express interview with the author

the goats' solstice song mentioned in the essay

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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