Review: The Diemenois, being the correct and true account of the sensational escape, seclusion, and cruel demise of a most infamous man by JW Clennett
The Diemenois is an impeccably drawn, fascinatingly written graphic novel that presents an alternative history of Tasmania in which the West (Ouest) of the state, post invasion, is a French possession. The action begins with an unwell man being taken on a long boat journey. Who is this mysterious man and why is he going to Baudin, the provincial capital (approximately where Smithton lies in this reality) of Van Diemen Ouest. It then roams far and wide and over the last two centuries, and introduces us to many individuals as the story (is it true though?) of the sea traveller, is revealed.
Claudet is the name the mysterious gentleman goes by and it is posited that he may indeed be Napoleon, not dead from liver cancer on St Helena, but whisked away by his supporters and bought to the new colony of Van Diemen Oeust and domiciled in the Maison des Abeilles.
Claudet refuses the offer of help from a local, who intimates knowledge of his true identity, and surrounds himself with those who do not inhabit Baudin. He lives a reclusive existence, leading the town folk to speculate wildly about him. He seems to have many enemies.
Interspersed in the story of Claudet, are a number of other threads; a researcher’s study notes from the 1990s until current times slowly reveal a deepening conviction that Claudet was Napoleon, and we, as readers are privy to this building case. With the research presented, it becomes possible to believe that Claudet is Napoleon, though most of the academy are his detractors, and he is a self-proclaimed conspiracist.
Some character’s stories, like the researcher’s, are more fully revealed later in this exquisite tome, though there are many cameos. A portrait drawn both literally and figuratively, that I am still carrying with me is of Mumma Tebba. She is revealed to the reader on the night that the massacre, occurs, a turning point in the book. A “highly skilled Voudouisant,” Mumma Tebba is one of the many outsiders that Claudet has surrounded himself with and she chalks her incantations onto the floor of the scullery as the murderers approach her, too.
I wish I could make some kind of comparative reference to the exquisite visual nature of this book, but it is the first long graphic novel I have ever read – and it will not be the last! My concern was always that, as a devoted reader of words I would lose half the story by staying with the letters, not their accompanying imagery. This did not happen. The entire production had me entranced.
JW Clennett has been working on this book for over ten years and it has been published by a small independent publishing house, Hunter Publishers, to their credit. The exquisite drawings, delicate maps of the olden days, replete with new town names, the replication of old newspapers, encyclopedias and photos, alongside research notes and the quirky ‘comic’ style drawings all meld together to form one hell of an entertaining book. It’s dark, it’s intricate and it is a fascinating alternate history with rich story threads shot through. It is un-put-down-able.
This review was first published in the December edition of Warp.
The Diemenois, by JW Clennett
ISBN - 9780980740585
ISBN - 9780980740585