The Tale of One Bad Rat, by Bryan Talbot, is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Mr. Talbot started out with the goal of writing a graphic novel that took place, at least partially, in the Lake District of England, home of Beatrix Potter and the characters of her children’s books. From that beginning, he took the image of a young homeless girl being harassed by a bearded ‘Jesus Freak’, (his words) in the Tube, and constructed a tale around her. For the girl to be homeless, Mr. Talbot decides that she needs a reason to have left home. So his character is the victim of sexual abuse by her father, and neglect and uncaring by her mother. Left to many authors, this story might have been heavy handed, but Mr. Talbot clearly put a lot of time and work into researching the mental effects of incest upon children, and he brings his young protagonist on a touching journey from the streets of London to the English Countryside, where she seeks solace in the familiar surroundings of her favorite childhood books, those of Beatrix Potter.
Helen Potter, the young heroine of the story, suffered incest at the hands of her father, but like many victims, she blames herself. She feels herself to be ‘one bad rat’, someone deserving of her father’s abuse and her mother’s disdain.
The story starts with Helen’s experiences in London, both good and bad. The book opens with Helen in the Tube, fantasizing about killing herself. We also meet her only friend, a little rat named ‘Ratface’. Ratface is with her throughout the book, sometimes in reality, sometimes in her imagination, but he is her constant companion, and her conversations with him provide a peek into her inner dialog. She is befriended by some thieves, who rescue her from the creepy clutches of a man on the street (who they then rob). She stays in an abandoned house with the thieves for a month or so, but things there go wrong, and she moves on, deciding to find her way out into the country, to the home of Beatrix Potter.
The story of her abuse is seen in flashbacks, which aren’t gruesome, but are guaranteed to make your heart ache for Helen. When she finally arrives in the Lake District, she is taken in by some friendly innkeepers, and through their acceptance and the peace of the area, she is able to finally understand that she did nothing to deserve the treatment she received, and she is able to confront her father. The freedom she feels after confronting him is a beautiful thing, and she is finally able to move on in her life.
I really loved this book…I checked it out from the library, and I may decide that I need to own a copy. The author took such a difficult, heartbreaking subject, and with his beautiful drawings and sensitive touch, made it a story of redemption and the power of believing in ones self. Highly recommended.