Review by Karl Verhoven
The world is in a mess, but that has little impact on our central character, a balding middle-aged man who lives in rural isolation with his wife, although she remains an off-panel presence until the final sections of this mystifyingly compelling glimpse into someone else’s life.
Tommi Musturi never names his protagonist who spouts forth about life and proves to be somewhat the fantasist while frequently thinking about food. This is in meticulously drawn eight panel, single or double page segments, often featuring pauses where Musturi just invites us to enjoy the views for a page. There is no conventional narrative, just gnomic ramblings that will either appeal or not, the feeling being our philosopher is just happy to have an audience.
Melancholic and wistful, The Book of Hope nevertheless lives up to its title. He may be overweight, have some surreal dreams and enjoy his bodily functions more than most, but our protagonist makes the most of the life he has. A couple of pages consider his perfect day, which is composed of small moments of satisfaction. His morning coffee was excellent, he found a picture of an old friend, saved a bumblebee from freezing on the windowsill and finished the last of the season’s gooseberries among other minor delights. Some would consider that easily pleased, but how happy are they? On a few occasions despair briefly emerges, but it’s rapidly kicked back into touch. “Sometimes I think I don’t exist”, voices our man in meta-commentary, only to conclude after several silent panels “The thought does not make me any happier than I already am”.
On reaching the third chapter the world changes and we’re embedded in our man’s cowboy fantasy. At first it’s uncharacteristically violent and nihilistic, but soon slips into the reassuring pattern of thoughtful reflection. That this is set against the standard scenes of Western cinema is both wry and evocative, and the fantasies continue to weave in and out of the remainder. A page of the man and his wife in snapshots impersonating various rock stars is a standout.
The Book of Hope isn’t something to rush through. Savour it over time and let the reflections sink in gradually. Leave it in the kitchen and read a few pages at a time with breakfast to start the day right with a smile on your face.