Review – It’s Cold In The River At Night (Avery Hill Publishing)

Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Writer/Artist: Alex Potts
Release Date: 13th November 2017

It’s Cold In The River At Night is the latest offering from Avery Hill Publishing, and takes the form of a 100-page graphic novel written and drawn by Alex Potts. The story is based around a young couple, Carl and Rita, and the gradual decline of their relationship following a move to a more rural location.

The opening portion of the book almost feels like the set up for a horror story. The couple move into an isolated house on stilts on a fast-moving river, the last one remaining after the ravages of time swept its neighbours away. After a short while, Carl finds a book documenting some of the strange happenings on the river, and discovers mysterious boat-shaped coffins that the area is famous for.  So far so ‘horror 101’, right?  However, rather than fall into an easy, formulaic story, creator Potts instead provides us with an engaging look at Carl and Rita as the pressure of their self-imposed isolation gradually drives a wedge right through the heart of their relationship.

There are some interesting obstacles thrown into the mix to add more pressure and tension to their situation – her dissertation, itself the primary reason for them moving out of the city; Carl’s boredom and frustration at his inability to fill his time in a satisfying way; the worryingly over-familiar landlord who keeps stopping by with gifts of food – and all of these play their own part in the cracks that form between the pair over the course of the story.

It’s smooth, a fast-moving read that doesn’t bog itself down with unnecessary dialogue. Carl takes centre stage for the most part, and the way he finds himself desperately seeking a sense of purpose makes him a relatable – if not perhaps wholly likeable – protagonist.  There’s an abrasive insecurity to his character that prevents us from ever really being on his ‘side’, and while the reader is likely to become invested in his relationship with Rita, she does seem to come off as the more sympathetic figure in the whole situation.

The story ultimately ends up feels like a meditation on anxiety, both inside and outside of their relationship. In his head, Carl feels like he’s extraneous, surplus to requirements, and his attempts to fill his time and provide what he considers value to the relationship – whether that be through fishing or learning how to make the strange boat-shaped coffins he discovered in the book – give the book its driving force.  He’s an oddly tragic figure who never lets his guard down long enough for us to truly sympathise with his situation, but all that changes in the powerful and emotive final sequence of the book.

The artwork is solid throughout, prioritising narrative structure and flow over unnecessary detail. It’s fairly restrained for the most part, but Potts really cuts loose during the aforementioned closing sequence, pushing the boundaries of the medium with a gradually increasing panel count that works perfectly to deliver the point he’s making.

At the end of the day, It’s Cold In The River At Night is an engaging, thought-provoking read that perhaps ends a little too abruptly for my own personal tastes, but the themes explored here are likely to resonate with the reader long after they’ve put the book down.  Yet another strong offering from the folks at Avery Hill, and one that’s well worth a look.

Rating: 4/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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