Anne Spudvilas Swan Lake, Allen & Unwin, Nov 2017, 48pp., $29.99 (hbk) ISBN 9781743318454
Told mostly visually in three acts, this is the story of the ballet Swan Lake. Act I introduces us to the young Prince when he meets the beautiful Swan Queen as she and her handmaidens emerge from the lake, transformed from swans back to women under the evil Sorcerer’s spell. The Prince and Swan Queen declare their love for each other and she is to arrive at the ball at midnight, at which time she will transform to a woman. The Prince will then be able to choose her as his bride. In Act II however, the Sorcerer arrives at the ball with his daughter, disguised as the Swan Queen. The Prince is bewitched and unwittingly betrays the real Swan Queen as she watches through the windows. In Act III the Prince realises his mistake and rushes to meet his Swan Queen, only to be followed by the Sorcerer, transformed into a bird of prey. A fight ensues and after the Sorcerer is overpowered, the Prince finds his Swan Queen. The ending is not happy ever after though, while the Swan Queen’s spell has been broken, the Prince’s declaration cannot be undone. Wordless pages of the most beautifully evocative illustrations I think I have ever seen follow each page of the written acts.
Inspired by the Murray-Darling River, Spudvilas has recreated this classic tale beautifully. Line, colour, direction, and most importantly texture, have been used to full effect throughout. The mostly dark pages have glimpses and pockets of light. The illustrative techniques work to create the mood and pace of the story. I have pored over this book for hours, sharing it with colleagues and friends, and every time I look at it or discuss it, it is with amazement and awe. I see something new every time, an aspect of light not previously noticed, a character’s posture implying mood or reaction.
This book is destined to be a classic, like the tale it is retelling. It is a beautiful thing, one to be cherished and shared.
Reviewed by Liz Derouet