I was really in need of a lovely relaxing read, and this beautiful graphic novel about finding peace and mental healing through gardening does exactly that!
Book: The Garden by Sean Michael Wilson and Fumio Obata
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Liminal 11. All opinions my own.
The Garden follows a young woman named Joanna who, after burning out at work, travels to Japan to learn about the art of zen gardening. The first part of the book shows her trip, and the second shows her putting her new skills into practice as she turns her own neglected garden into a beautiful place of respite and life. The story is simple, but powerful, and though the book is only short, it’s the kind of read that makes you want to take it very slowly and savour every page. It could perhaps have a little more depth to it – I would have loved the book to spend longer in Japan and show more Japanese gardens – but it definitely works as it is.
The artwork is just beautiful. The fairly limited, pastel palette makes every page feel harmonious and calming to look at – it just feels spring-y and fresh. There’s a great balance in the style between the overall watercolour dreaminess and the dynamic style of some of the tighter details (there’s a great page with newts!) that somehow really work to evoke the feelings Joanna goes through; the zen of the wider garden scenes is balanced with a rediscovery of joy. The cleverness of the art is also really apparent in the wordless pages that show Joanna’s stress at work and subsequent breakdown – the art feels tight and dark and claustrophobic, and it’s a relief when you get back to the calmer pages. It’s very well done.
This would make a beautiful gift for those looking to learn a little more about mindfulness – it’s deceptively simple but I think will leave people intrigued and wanting to find some of Joanna’s peace in their own life. It actually reminds me a little of the Marie Kondo manga, inasmuch as seeing the steps fictionalised makes it feel a little more aspirational than directly reading a self-help book, because you can see the benefits more clearly when they apply to a character rather than your future self. But even if you just want to treat this as fiction, it’s still a beautiful read that offers a moment of calm. Four out of five cats!