The Strange is the first of Madagascar-born Jérôme Ruilier’s books to be published in English (his previous two books, Le Coeur-enclume and Les Mohammed will hopefully not be too far behind). The Strange takes the experience of Les Mohammed (which was based on interviews with immigrants from North Africa conducted by the writer Yamina Benguigui) and crafts something fable-like, haunting and, yes, stranger, centring on a ‘strange’, who arrives in a place and is immediately recognised as being different.
As with Jason – albeit incorporating a scratchier, colder, more primitive art – Ruillier’s world is populated by different animals, both actual (one of the book’s recurring prisms is a crow who flies about the city, checking in with the strange in a curious and benevolent way, but we also hear from a tank of fish) and then, we presume, metaphorical (people have the heads of crocodiles, bears, birds, frogs and rhinos, among others). Ruillier makes a point of sharing different views – so there are those who are sympathetic and those who are unsympathetic, those whose views are surprising (such as the immigrant who is angered by other immigrants having an easier experience, even though the strange we follow does not in the least have an easy experience, Ruillier making the point that people make assumptions based on a vicious glimpse into another’s life) and those whose views are, sadly, not (such as the neighbour who reports the strange to the police).
Exploring the migrant experience, refracted via perspectives on the perceived view of the migrant, is one of the tales of the age. What sets Ruillier’s book apart is that it has a shining clarity, such that this book could be read by a child or an adult (as it was in my own house) and understood. It can foster debate, encourage tolerance or a willingness to consider another’s experience unfiltered by a cruel, blinkered media forever baying like dogs. There is sympathy and a generosity of spirit here, two qualities that are sadly lacking in many quarters. As an introduction to the work of Jérôme Ruilier, The Strange will leave you wanting more.
Any Cop?: The Strange is a force for good and we recommend you foist it on any Daily Mail reading idiot you know.