Fear and Tenderness

Rosemary Valero-O’ConnellDon’t Go Without Me

Rosemary Valero-O’Connell - Don’t Go Without Me
Rosemary Valero-O’ConnellDon’t Go Without Me

I had the great pleasure of reading Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me recently. This much celebrated work is wonderfully written by Mariko Tamaki who manages to convey real emotion through fully realised characters, but with a delicate touch. What makes the book really special is the marriage of words and art – with the perfectly balanced illustration by Rosemary Velero-O’Connell. Bereft upon finishing the book I had to immediately seek out both This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Don’t Go Without Me by Rosemary Velero-O’Connell.

Don’t Go Without Me contains three stories with similar themes running throughout. Memory, loss and experience. 

The titular story evokes the worlds of Faerie and the hard bargains driven in that land. Crossing over to the otherworld, to a parallel dimension, a woman is separated from her lover. As she moves through the strange land seeking her partner she has to trade her precious memories for clues. 

Anyone that talks about having crossed over is lying, because the ones that do don’t come back.

Don’t Go Without Me

In seeking her girlfriend she loses her from her memory. The story raises many interesting and important ideas – are we really ourselves if we lose our memories? Is our perception of the present formed by our experiences and the things we remember? The anguish of dementia with its robbery of the past and of our very identity is evoked. 

Conversely, we naturally memorialise people and events from our past – the fading of those memories can be liberating and allow us to move on to fresh experiences. Obsessing over a lost past, Miss Haversham style, is seldom healthy.

There’s a hairline fracture, darling, in the shell that separates our worlds. You’ve got to press where there’s give, feel for the place your hands catch, so you can crack the shell.

Don’t Go Without Me
Rosemary Valero-O’ConnellDon’t Go Without Me

The goblin-market esque setting provides plenty of material for illustration. Imagine the world’s wildest bar, stocked with the finest liqueurs, and whose clientele are baying wolves, whose faces are dolls heads and bird skulls. Elegantly coloured with a coffee, peach and black palette. The dimensional cross-over finely illustrated by the lovers hands slipping away from each other.

The second story of the triptych What is Left takes us to space. A space vessel is powered by memories from a donor in an induced coma. When there is an accident one of the crew, Isa,  finds themselves stranded in someone else’s memories. Picnics, swimming lessons, hair-dying sessions. Adrift in a life-raft of reminiscence. 

You’re not quite holograms are you? A web of neuro projections? Just…light and color, trapped in amber?

What is Left

Nothing exists without its opposite also existing. This is a thought that always brings hope. Where there is isolation there is also connection. Loneliness can turn to its opposite. 

Rosemary Valero-O’Connell - What is Left
Rosemary Valero-O’ConnellWhat is Left

The cluster and rush of memory in the art is sometimes overwhelming and hard to follow but it does give us a sense of the energy and power that is strong enough to pull a great ship across the stars. The jungle of synapses and the sleek craft in space are beautifully drawn with dusky pink and lavender colours evoking the tastes and smells that settle upon Isla.

Every first kiss, every scraped knee…Everyone I’ve ever loved. Pulling us through the stars.

What is Left

The final tale Con Temur, Con Ternura looks at a sleeping giant. The giant is waking up and it could mean the end of all things. How do we face the end? How do we prepare ourselves for something which will come for us all sooner or later? Death and life are the themes.

The sensory and emotional pleasures of life are brought to us. Being with our loved ones, our friends. Art, music. Food and drink. Can we face death by summoning all that is good about life?

But it is a celebration, because what else could it be if it really is the world’s final night? Why not choose each other one last time?

Con Temur, Con Ternura

The great rolling pitch of the ocean, tender and delicate intimacy. Intricate shells and soft bodies, the warmth of the sun and the crackling firelight. Rosemary’s art brings these elements together and unifies them as the turquoise ocean rises.

Rosemary Valero-O’Connell - Con Temur, Con Ternura
Rosemary Valero-O’ConnellCon Temur, Con Ternura

There are many sleeping giants – climate change, racism, disease, poverty and inequality. Maybe an awareness of the joys of life can act as a spur to keep the giant asleep a little longer.

The three stories present a thoughtful and sympathetic reflection on life, memory and loss. The illustration is often breathtaking – sensual and warm like memory itself. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell has a welcome place on my ‘must read’ list, at least until some sleeping giant drowns us.

Rosemary Valero-O’ConnellDon’t Go Without Me is published by Shortbox and can be bought directly from them. – https://www.shortbox.co.uk/
You can find Rosemary online at her website and on Twitter.

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