Britten and Brülightly

by Hannah Berry

Soon to be graduating with a degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington’s ISchool, Andrea Gough took time out from her classes (including mine!) to send me this book review.  The book is actually one of my favorites, as well.  I hope you enjoy it as much as the two of us did.

In Britten and Brülightly (Metropolitan Books, 2009), Hannah Berry’s graphic novel mystery, Fernández Britten is a depressed private investigator. It seems as though all he does is deliver the information that ruins lives. He’s considering two options: a career change, or suicide. He’s leaning toward suicide. Before he does, however, he’s approached with a new case: a young woman’s fiancée has been found dead, and the police ruled it suicide. She’s convinced that it was murder. Britten and his partner Brülightly decide to take it as one last case, one that Britten hopes will finally provide him the redemption of a positive outcome. While Britten’s outlook is fairly bleak, sparks of wry British wit come courtesy of Britten’s partner Brülightly, who is—did I mention this?—a teabag. It sounds like a deal-breaker, I know, but Berry carries it off flawlessly. Here’s an example of one such exchange, after the client has first called, and Brülightly asks Britten what she seems like:

Britten:  Mid-twenties; well-bred; either hard-nosed  by nature or as a result of coping  with this murder, it’s difficult to say.

Brülightly:  Was she alright?

Britten:  She seemed quite composed.

Brülightly: That’s not what I meant…

Britten:  I know what you meant. Don’t be lecherous: you’re a teabag.

Brülightly:  I’m a teabag with needs, Fern.

 Flashes of humor aside, Berry has crafted a well-executed, hardboiled mystery. Britten and Brülightly’s search for the truth is labyrinthine and complex enough to satisfy most mystery fans.  At the same time, this noir mystery is matched and enhanced by Berry’s atmospheric, nearly atonal painted illustrations.  She plays with form, moving away from cartoon-inspired boxy drawings to distinctive illustrations that span an entire page, which both build upon and facilitate the flow of dialogue and action. I don’t read a ton of graphic novels, but if more were like this then I absolutely would. So, if you’re a graphic novel novice or enthusiast, or simply a fan of complex noir mysteries in the style of Dashiell Hammett, definitely give Britten and Brülightly a try.



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4 responses to “Britten and Brülightly

  1. Yvette

    Well, I finally read BRITTEN AND BRULIGHTLY and liked it very much. Though it was a bit strange getting used to reading and looking at pictures at the same time. Something new to be learned in my old age. Ha.
    This was a sad tale, very noirish-ly told.
    An unsettling book.

  2. jackie specht

    I work in a library and, as a result, see some fabulous graphic novels. A recent childrens’ graphic novel that I loved for its sweetness and its reality is “Smile.”

  3. Yvette

    This sounds very intriguing. I will definitely take a look. I’ve never read a graphic novel, well, except for THE ARRIVAL by Shaun Tan – a wonderful (though unsettling) book. Have you seen this? There is no text, the story is told entirely in moody, shadowy sepia-tone artwork. It has fantasy elements, but the main theme is the immigrant experience. This is one of those books you get lost in.

    • Andrea

      I very much enjoyed The Arrival! The artwork is so atmospheric, and perfect for telling the story – I feel as though I see something differently each time I read it. And as with Britten and Brulightly, I think it explodes the mental picture we tend to conjure when we hear the phrase graphic novel.

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