Review by Ian Keogh
Wrinkles has a brilliant opening sequence that immediately introduces the theme of the book. A man and his wife sit opposite another man in a suit at a desk who informs them he can’t offer them a mortgage as they have no collateral. On hearing this the man becomes infuriated, saying he doesn’t want a loan, and as we turn the page the scene transforms into reality. The couple are sitting by an elderly man in bed suffering from dementia, and the previous page has been his worldview.
This is Emilio, or Ernest if you go for the Knockabout edition, who had been a bank manager, but is now a constant source of frustration to his son. Arrangements are made for Emilio’s accommodation in a nursing home shortly thereafter.
Paco Roca is largely unknown to the English speaking world, but has an immense reputation in Europe stretching back to the 1990s. Wrinkles won the award for Best Album at several European festivals, the most prestigious being Lucca, and an animated film has been adapted from it. The gestation of the book began when an advertising illustration Roca produced was rejected due to the elderly people it featured lacking a visual appeal. The comment resonated, and he began gathering stories of the elderly.
Emilio’s new surroundings are a depressing depiction of what awaits very many of us, with the happiest being those who’ve retreated to their own world. Therapists go through the motions, and doctors are blunt. Roca illustrates everything in a matter of fact style high on emotional sensitivity and never lacking in geniality.
The only moments of sentimentality occur when people return to happier memories of their younger days. An elderly man recalling how he captured a cloud and won his wife is very touching, but there’s absolutely no sentimentality about the lives led by the nursing home residents in the present day. A two page sequence displays the daily routine for most. The periods between meals are largely spent sitting in silence in a row beneath a clock.
King of this sandcastle is Miguel (or Émile in the Knockabout edition), who routinely cons other folk out of money, and exploits those who have dementia. Far more capable than those around him, Miguel retains a zest for life, and is grateful for Emilio’s arrival representing the company of someone still possessing most of their faculties.
Yes, there is some laughter at the expense of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s of a genial kind, and far outweighed by the depiction of the fears and experiences of sufferers. The threat of the second floor is literally suspended above the heads of those in the early stages, and toward the end there’s a brilliant and horrific moment that immediately hammers home in the most intense fashion what it’s like to suffer from the condition.
Wrinkles is powerful, affecting and poignant, and you should read it. The Fantagraphics edition is better. Despite a more appealing cover, the Knockabout translation is very stilted and unnatural. It doesn’t ruin the emotional beats, but undermines them via distraction.