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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Rainbow of Time (The)
by Jimmy Liao
Age Range: 14+
As the young protagonist tries to come to terms with the loss of her mother the girl’s father takes his daughter to the cinema where they can lose themselves in films. “Mother loved movies more than anything,” he says, “Maybe some day, we will see her in the cinema.” Film becomes not only an escape into different worlds but it keeps alive the girl’s hope that she will one day see her mother again. By developing a love of cinema she is able to find solace when dealing with her sadness as well as relating it to the many key milestones in her own life, in particular, her relationships from teenage heartbreak to the disintegration of her marriage and single parenthood. However, hope does return and life goes on.
Taiwanese author and illustrator Jimmy Liao’s stunningly beautiful cinematic graphic novel is about love and loss, but it is also so much more. His brief poetic text – most pages having just one sentence – belie the underlying heavyweight themes contained within The Rainbow of Time. Many pages are devoid of text altogether leaving the masterful illustrations to articulate that which has been left unsaid. The careful design of the book means the words are placed on each page to compliment the artwork allowing for maximum impact. To get this just right is no mean feat and both translators, Wang Xinlin and Andrea Lingenfelter have done an excellent job.
Although the text is important, it is the novel’s exquisite and detailed illustrations that exude emotion with evocative images and a rich colour scheme. There is a mix of double-page-spreads and single page illustrations, each presenting much to interpret. From the very first image: on the left-hand-side a tree-lined black asphalt road with a contrasting stark white zebra crossing while on the right-hand-side a young girl dressed all in blue walks with her father on a light grey pavement under trees that are losing their leaves in a glorious autumnal light as they head to the cinema – to the final image: a double-page spread of an empty cinema of blue seats; on the right-hand-side the protagonist and her daughter hug, while several rows back a lone man sits who appears to be watching them.
The colour blue is a dominant colour throughout Liao’s work. The girl is often dressed in blue and the scenes at the cinema are featured in a blue hue or appears to represent the sad points of her life although at the same time could also be seen as a symbol of hope.
Many images are used to convey the girl’s state of mind – the girl and her teenage boyfriend are shown amidst a jumble of seats in a cinema auditorium, each standing on a chair in a sea of red with their mouths wide open screaming while the text explains their sadness at parting; or the girl as she stands isolated and forlorn on a piano set on a beach with the sea lapping around the legs while she gazes out to sea watching a ship slowly sinking – “I didn’t know then that the ship of our happiness had already begun to founder somewhere over the horizon. “ The colours are muted in grey/blue hues. Another image has her floating on the surface of the ocean with a blue chair sinking below her into the darkness.
Liao provides a variety of different imagery from the realistic to the fantastical and there are many perplexing details to linger over whether it’s a movie poster, a scene from a film merged with the protagonist’s life in reality or a dream. The ambiguous references don’t always allow for clear meanings, and maybe it’s not meant to. For example, mystery surrounds the mother’s departure: whether she abandoned her daughter or died, and at the end of the book is the girl reunited with her mother in reality or only in her dreams? Similarly, the disintegration of the protagonist’s marriage implies her husband suffers a mental breakdown although the meaning is not clearly stated.
There are an abundance of cinematic references (a useful list is provided at the back of the book). For an English audience some of the films will be unfamiliar. A few of the references are easy to spot but many of them will only be identifiable by a more avid film fan. Sometimes it’s obvious that the reader is seeing a scene or element straight from a film serving as a visual metaphor in the story, such as a sinking ship for the protagonist’s floundering relationship, or King Kong providing a shoulder for the young girl to sit on. The street scenes frequently feature movie posters such as Francois Truffaut’s Les Quatre-cents Coup (The 400 Blows) - part of the film poster is on display as the teenage girl and her boyfriend cycle past; two films from Polish Director Kvzysztof Kíeslowski, Trois couleurs rouge – a picture on a wall and Trois couleurs bleu – film poster.
There is so much complexity and subtlety here that it is a book that needs to be read again and again, lingering over and savouring the illustrations to discover Liao’s meaning. It is both a poignant story but also an incredible ode to the cinema.