Review: Glass Town, Isabel Greenberg

Glass Town captured my imagination long before its publication date. Graphic novels are a genre that I always want to explore further but given how few of them are sent out as review copies and how much more expensive they are than traditional novels, I never seem to get round to it. Here though, I was determined to not miss out. Diving deep into the Brontë juvenilia, Greenberg explores the infamous infernal world from an entirely different perspective. She captures Glass Town at a moment in 1849 when a grief-stricken Charlotte looks back upon the world she created with her siblings, loneliness tempting her to return. I decided my graphic novel moment had come. I squirrelled away my Christmas book voucher and bided my time. I didn’t regret it.

We arrive on the moors with Charlotte, alone on the moors for the first time. She sees a familiar face appear. But indeed, he has always been there. She just hasn’t wanted him lately. It’s Charles Wellesley, one of her most favoured Angrian creations. He stands before her, reminding her of the world  which she has long forsaken but which is always ready for her return. From there, we flash back to the beginning of the Brontë story to where it all began. Cowan Bridge, the toy soldiers and the onset of scribble-mania.

As a novice to the visual medium, I was surprised by just how different an experience it was. It felt something more akin to watching a film. This may sound strange because I often conjure up characters on the page but here, I could see that I was being guided far more closely by the author. I could almost hear the characters’ voices. I loved how Greenberg was able to emphasise the kinship between Charlotte and her creation by how their faces were mirrors of one another. Charles was Charlotte’s male alter-ego, a persona which she took all the way through to adult life when she disguised herself as Currer Bell.

We watch as Greenberg guides us through the Brontë family story, showing how the tendrils of Glass Town sprouted from their earliest beginnings and took a tight hold. Again, although I had been aware of a lot of the background to the Angria and Gondal stories, Glass Town definitely helped me to visualise the politics of it all in way that I had never done before. And given how often I have had heard the juvenilia dismissed as childish and unimportant, I was surprised by how compelling I found the narrative. The criss-crossing between Northangerland and Zamorna, the put-upon Mary Percy and the adopted Quashia, determined to set things right. I could see how the family got so caught up in it. The muted hues, particularly for the Haworth scenes, all serve to blur the borders between the Brontës’ reality and their myth-making. As the novel threads back and forth between the real world and their imaginary one, I could appreciate for the first time how vibrant this experience of cooperative creativity must have been.

Greenberg’s drawings seem to emphasise the vulnerability of Charlotte and her siblings.  They look as if a gust of wind would blow them away. Right from the beginning, we know that they exist in close proximity to death. It is hardly surprising that they should wish for an escape. Yet Greenberg also shows the dangers of Glass Town and how Charlotte comes to fear the place will consume her. I had read of Charlotte’s worries about the Infernal World before but again, Glass Town brings them to life in a whole new way.

I felt so sad to read Greenberg’s observation in an interview that the book would need to be adapted for the screen in order for her to make any significant profit. It seems rather unlikely as a possibility but yet I could see how it’s the kind of thing that could really find an audience. I can even imagine how Greenberg’s characters would move. This was such a piece of art and I really hope that it brings its author every success. More than anything though, Glass Town was an extremely moving read. This surprise encounter from Charles Wellesley after all these years is full of tenderness. This is Charlotte at her lowest ebb, all alone and grieving. Who else could really understand her loss other than the inhabitants of Glass Town? The final frames made me genuinely tearful. Glass Town is one of the most beautiful books that I have ever owned and it has given me an entirely new appreciation for the graphic novel genre as a whole but more than that, it has breathed colour and dynamism into an often neglected part of the Brontë story. Highly recommended.

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Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg
Published by Random House on February 6th 2020
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, Literary
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9781473575509

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5 thoughts on “Review: Glass Town, Isabel Greenberg

    1. An excellent review, which brings out the several points that make this novel so compelling such as CB’s identification with her creations (whether Charles or her pen-name), plus the vulnerability of her situation when she wanted to be strong. I agree, this graphic novel deserves to be turned into an animated feature.

    2. Oh I feel your pain on that one! There are a couple that I’m really interested in and I keep putting it on my Christmas lists but I never get anywhere. They’re just so expensive! Please do let me know what you think once you’ve tracked down a copy 🙂

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