I Go Quiet by David Ouimet succeeds at that most difficult of literary tasks, how to employ very few words and yet convey issues of great complexity. In this arresting new picture book he tells the story of an unnamed girl and her lonely life as a quiet person in a cacophonous world. Set in an oppressive dystopian cityscape, we join her on her journey to enlightenment. With plaudits from the likes of Philip Pullman and Dave Eggers, this unusual book will linger in your thoughts long after you put it down.
The muted, sometimes industrial vibe of Ouimet’s illustrations conjures a densely populated city, through which our young protagonist passes anonymously. Surrounding characters are depicted as a uniform mass, each of them carrying a mask to be donned in certain situations, a symbolic nod to our own everyday conformities. As an introvert in a world that prizes the extrovert, this pensive schoolgirl refutes the lie that schooldays are the happiest days of your life.
‘I am different. I am the note that’s not in tune. I go mousy, I go grey.’
She imagines herself soaring into the sky like a bird, but the key to freedom is not of the feathered kind. Books and imagination will provide our melancholic heroine with wings, and her silent voracious reading leads to the understanding that books are not merely a refuge from life, but a way of understanding it and a potential gateway to freedom.
Reminiscent of the work of the great Shaun Tan, I Go Quiet is richly atmospheric and focuses on cultivating resilience in a life of seeming isolation. Just like Tan’s books, it transcends genre. Speaking to the misfit in all of us, and particularly the introvert, it beautifully reinforces the famous quote by Rumi, ‘The quieter you become, the more you will be able to hear.’
I Go Quiet by David Ouimet is published by Canongate, 48 pages.