Graphic Novel Review: Hostage by Guy Delisle

Deceptively simple and psychologically gripping, Delisle’s memoir of NGO worker Christophe Andre’s time as a hostage in Chechnya works incredibly effectively with its limited resources. 

It’s a tricky gimmick, focusing mostly on one character in one setting for an entire work. Surprisingly, it’s worked quite a few times for Hollywood in recent years. Ryan Reynolds in Buried, Blake Lively in The Shallows, Sandra Bullock in Gravity, James Franco in 127 Hours– all had a similar premise and mostly pulled it off. Guy Delisle attempts it in graphic novel form here, and succeeds as well. Most of the book takes place in one room, reliving one cycle nearly a hundred times as the real-life protagonist Christophe Andre ponders his fate at the hand of Chechen rebels.

Delisle picks from a limited selection of perspectives for his panels when Christophe is trapped in the room. There’s a bird’s eye point of view, a 3/4 shot of a despondent Christophe, a close up of his shackled hand, and the occasional visit from his kidnappers. You’d think this would get tiresome after about three loops, but Delisle gets into a rhythm of sorts. As Christophe goes through the motions the familiar shots work like a rhyming pattern, even as his thoughts change from day to day. The monochromatic colour pallet adds to the easy read- it would most likely be exhausting for both Delisle and readers to relive the same scenes in full detail. This is one case where obvious copy+pasting works to benefit the art.

A page from Guy Delisle’s Hostage: Christophe Andre awakens on the first day of his captivity.

The story gradually escalates, and the repetition is broken up by various happenings around the apartment. There are also a few asides where Christophe tries to maintain his sanity by thinking about famous historical battles. What a nerd! But seriously, these break up the flow and even though they do show off Delisle’s prowess, there’s little need for them other than to give the poor artist something else to draw.

About 4/5’s of the way in things really ramp up, and the pacing goes a little askew. It goes from 0 to 100 real fast, then back to about a 10, then to 100 again. This memoir was relayed to Delisle by Christophe himself so you know the stakes are never too high, but there are some thrilling moments towards the end.

If there is one criticism, it’s that this book moves in real time, which means that not a single day is skipped. This was probably done out of sheer respect for the man, and it’s totally understandable. But there are about 20 pages that can be lopped off because come on we know Christophe is gonna eat his soup that day OKAY. Also, as mentioned before, the historic battle thoughts could have been omitted. There are a few times when Christophe imagines scenes from his actual life (like his sister’s wedding) and those actually do work well, so more of those would have sufficed. Some creative liberty!

Overall, it’s a very interesting read and worth checking out.

Final Grade: A