Written by Pierre Oscar Lévy, illustrated by Frederik Peeters
“Early morning on a perfect summer’s day, people begin to descend on an idyllic, secluded beach. Amongst their number, a family, a young couple, a refugee and some American tourists. Its fine white sand is fringed with rock pools filled with crystal clear water. The beach is sheltered from prying eyes by green-fringed cliffs that soar around the cove. But this utopia keeps a dark secret.
A woman’s body is found floating in the waters, which brings these thirteen strangers together to try and unravel the riddle of the sands and escape the beach alive in this tense, fantastical mystery.”
And from there, we get something different. It’s not a mystery though. The dead woman’s fate is soon resolved, as the thirteen holidaymakers find their utopia turning into a nightmare they’re not going to escape from. But tense? Fantastical? Oh yes, those are there. Most definitely.
Sandcastle is a that special kind of science fiction really; subtle, grounded in reality, dealing with ordinary people placed in a completely extraordinary situation, and observes their responses to that new, incredible world. In essence it’s an episode of The Twilight Zone, everything building towards creating a mood of disquiet, of creeping horror, of strangeness. But to do so in 112 pages is just right; the story tantalises, intrigues, mystifies and then finishes, leaving the impression of a mood with you. Another immediate analogy is that of Lost, but where that took 121 episodes to bore us to tears after so much promise, Sandcastle is a tight, taut tale.
I was torn about this one though. So much of it relies upon the big twist, revealed within the first 30 pages of this 112 page hardcover from SelfMadeHero. But in the end I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal the thing that both explains the mysterious death and seals the fate of everyone on the beach:
There it is, page 26, where the mother realises her son has grown, unaturally fast since they got to the beach. Everything after this has thirteen people living a perfect summer day trapped in a nightmare where time has altered, and they find themselves living their lives in one day, each half hour ageing them by a year.
And it’s this creeping horror, the realisation that they’re going to live and die, trapped in this place, all before sunrise the following day. None of them know why, none can escape, they simply have to cope with their new lives. What the book becomes, once realisation sets in, is a meditation on life and death, a look at the stages of life, the realities of their lives accelerated, suddenly they become a microcosm of society . The grown-ups need to come to terms with watching their children become youths, then young adults, before their eyes. Whilst the children have to cope with accelerated puberty, with sexuality and new desires.
As a comic it has something of a play-like structure, a performance piece, effectively it’s a sealed room piece, where all the drama, all the momentous events of these people’s lives are played out in front of us. What makes it truly fascinating is that it’s the entirety of their lives being played out, against their wishes. A superb (although hardly original idea), done with great style to create a genuine read it in a single sitting, no matter what, sort of book.
If it’s structure is of an enclosed character piece, it looks and feels like a piece of cinema at times (Levy is a documntary film maker – and there’s certainly a cinematic flow to the book), and it really is a case of the mood and emotions of all concerned being documented, with a quiet, restrained perfection by writer and artist.
The black and white artwork of Peeters is stark, but full of emotion, a very suitable accompaniment to the deeply unsettling psychological tale. The final proof of how effective and affecting Sandcastle is came shortly after the finale, as I sat for a while playing over the events of the book in my mind – always a good sign.