The interstellar Voyage of Olivier Duveau

by Francesca Del Moro

Just like Cosimo, Olivier Duveau comes from a wealthy family and spends his childhood in a golden prison, forced to observe a set of rules. And just like the boy who decides to climb a tree, refusing to ever come down, Olivier wishes to leave the human world to hover far higher, up to the stars. This is the destination of his “last great journey”. The adjective ‘last’ introduces right from the start a melancholic nuance prefiguring a sad epilogue, while the ‘great’ journey is the crowning achievement of a series of small journeys that Olivier undertakes since his childhood. At six, he tries for the first time to overstep the walls of the house, but he is immediately caught and called back home. More escape attempts fail as well, but luckily, he is allowed to travel with his mind. And this is what he does every night, stargazing through the window.
Olivier grows up alone until he reaches majority and, since his parents has died long time before, he inherits the immense wealth of the Duveau family, getting rid of his housekeepers-gaolers. At last, besides going out whenever he wants, he can also enter all the 77 rooms of the house that has always been off limits to him, and especially one of them: the library. After having read a while, he feels ready to face the outside world, so he goes to town, where he meets a girl named Estel. His heart starts to race, and next to her he feels the same emotions he experiences when looking at the stars. For seven years, he comes back and looks for her, eventually forcing himself to forget her. He comes to the conclusion that earthly matters are too painful for him, and prepares for his last great journey: night after night, he studies the stars and dives in frantic researches and complicated calculations in order to reach them some day. All his efforts seem vain, until one day he hears about the discovery of dynamite (a detail that allows us to place the story around the second half of the eighteenth century), and understands that thanks to it he could raise to the sky whatever he wants. He chooses a derelict tower, inhabited by little orphans and abandoned children. He takes possession of the tower, and after bringing the children to his home, entrusting them to the best physicians and educators, prepares to leave. Six carts full of dynamite come from Germany, and as soon as he pushes the trigger, he finds himself in orbit. Just like a spaceship, the tower cuts through the sky and Olivier can touch the clouds, pass through the stars, stop on unknown planets, until he realises an irresistible force has always attracted him to the Moon. When he reaches it, he discovers that the Moon is a little door open onto a world that couldn’t be described by any human language: a white immensity scattered of dark stars, where everything is capsized. Even the Terra (the Earth) is upside down, and Olivier rebaptises it ‘Arret’, a name which sounds like an invitation to stay, given the assonance with the French word ‘arrêt’, meaning ‘stop’. Yet Olivier knows that his is a one-way trip, so he leaps into the void. And here comes the impact, the blast, the ambulance, Estel’s kiss, and the stars come back.
The pursuit of freedom sometimes comes with a terrible price, the desire to break the limits imposed by conventions often has tragic consequences. But it is worth trying, like Olivier Duveau does, experiencing the thrill of flight and facing the fall. A crazy flight, driven by a desire of knowledge like the one felt by Ulysses, as depicted by Dante (whose Paradise is echoed by the idea of an ineffable new cosmos), a reckless flight like the one of Icarus, who pays with his life for his desire to come too close to the sun.
Most of all, Olivier’s last journey is the crossing of a threshold, here represented by the Moon, giving access to a capsized cosmos, a sort of negative of the previous images. A threshold marking the passage between life and death, opening the visions of the protagonist, fallen in a coma after the detonation destroyed the tower. We think of the passage through the space-time tunnel in 2001 – A Space Odyssey, or even more of the surrealist journey into The Black Hole (1979), followed by many other movies on the same subject, including the most recent Interstellar. But the Moon-door also reminds us of the little door in The Truman Show, opening through a fake sky, allowing the protagonist to leave a false world, devoid of true human relationships. A world that looks like the one described in this book by Jali: in fact, during the first years of his life, Olivier experiences loneliness, living a monotone and regimented existence. In short, a fake one. But his desire for freedom arises ever since, as a baby, he reaches out his hand towards the stars of the crib mobile. Growing up, he experiences love with the same dedication he puts into studying the sky: even in the course of his space explorations, he writes the name of Estel on the sandy surface of an unknown planet. A detail that makes us smile, one of the funny moments scattered through this melancholic story. The journey scenes are especially filled with these moments: Olivier rides the tower holding it by the bridles, loses and recovers his hat on the fly, pees from the edge of a star, jumps on the capsized Earth hanging on umbrellas reminding us of those painted by Magritte. The last pages of the book use few words while opening broad, wide-reaching scenes, contrasting with the first illustrations, that were dominated by vertical and sharp architectures, a sort of tribute to German expressionist cinema. The outset of the seventh art are undoubtedly among Jali’s sources of inspiration—his stars and planets seem drawn in the style of Méliès—while the drawings feature ‘stretched’ traits, constantly pointing upwards just like Olivier, and reminds us of Edward Gorey and Tim Burton. Jali plays with all the possibilities offered by two-colour drawing: he relies on contrasts, making flashes of light blast on the page and varying from the colder white to the deeper black, passing through a wide range of grey nuances. Visually gorgeous—to quote the author, page after page, the starry sky makes “our retinas blow up with pleasure”—the book is a lucid vision of existence. Surreal, poetic and philosophic at the same time, it tells, as specified in the first pages, the story of one among millions of human beings that have lived on planet Earth. Just like almost anyone else’s, this story is destined to fall into oblivion, but as long as it is lived, it is highly valuable. Throughout the book, the symbolism of 7 returns again and again (77 forbidden rooms, 7 years spent looking for Estel); 7 is an essential number in mysticism, representing all forms of discovery and knowledge. And, in the end, it is precisely the will to discover and know, crossing every line, what inspires the most daring travellers. Like Olivier Duveau.

softcover with flaps, 168 pages, 170x240 mm
ISBN: 9788857603988