Bryan Talbot’s The Tale of one Bad Rat is one of the most powerful graphic novel I have read.
At once, tragic and heart-breaking and yet uplifting too. The story is about Helen Potter, who as a child suffered sexual abuse from her father. She runs away from home, first to London where she takes up begging to survive, before meeting a young Geordie lad who has dreams of starting his own band. Due to tragic circumstances she then moves to the Lake District where she meets a lovely couple who take her in, giving her a job. But all this time she funds it difficult to deal with everything as memory of her abuse is so strong. Like most abuse victims she blames herself, but questions why she does so. One of the most powerful moments is when she confronts her father about the abuse, it just shows him for the coward that he is. And in a way, it can give her much needed closure so she can move on with her life. The final moments of her sitting near the hill, painting, just like her idol Beatrix Potter did, is so uplifting and neatly brought a tear to my eye.
And then of course, I haven’t even got to her pet rat, and her close relationship with him. The rat is her way of coping with a world which is both harsh and unforgiving, it is perhaps, a symbol of her innocence.
Also Helen’s love of Beatrix Potter and her books, which is a source of escapism for her. A lot of child abuse victims do this, try to find something which can alleviate the pain, whether through drug abuse, art, music, books, poetry and for Helen, Beatrix Potter is her escape. She idolises the writer, sometimes looking for certain similarities with her own life. Even going to the Lake District, where the writer used to reside and her favourite spots from where she would work. Bryan Talbot’s storytelling is gripping and full of so many truths about child abuse. No doubt he did a lot of research about the subject, but his work is really something else, both his script and artwork, he brings everything alive on the page. It feels so real as to make you nauseous and angry when we see the abuse, and move you near to tears toward the end when Helen tries to break free from the viscious cycle of self-blame and guilt. I also learnt a lot of things about rats which I didn’t know, such as the creepy ‘rat king’ phenomena.
This book is without doubt, a masterpiece. I am so glad I finally read it having known about it for a while.
Thank you Bryan Talbot.