Gentleman Jim

Title: Gentleman Jim
Author: Raymond Briggs
Published: 1980
Pages: 32
First Line: I must break out...

Ever read a book that makes you want to smile, cry, yell, and hug the main character all at the same time? This was the case for me while reading Gentleman Jim. Like most people, I know Raymond Briggs, for his work as a children's book writer and illustrator (The Snowman being the book that comes immediately to mind), so I was a little surprised to read this short graphic novel that is so clearly intended for an adult audience. It retained the sweetness and charm of his picture book illustrations, but it's characters were painfully real and dealing with some harsh realities of society.

Jim is an older gentleman who supports himself and his wife Hilda by cleaning toilets. The story begins with him contemplating this job, which he has been doing for thirty odd years and gets little satisfaction from. Surely there is something more he can do. Hitting up the wanted adds he considers some of the options before him... and it is here hat the reader starts to gain an understanding of his struggles. Jim is not simply under-qualified for this positions, he is intellectually, developmentally, unsuited to them.

As the story progresses, Jim's childlike enthusiasm and direction leads him to consider a career as a cowboy and then, upon finding that too expensive a career to set himself up in, a highway man. Jim must navigate the social and legal pitfalls of pursuing such a career, with very little actual understanding of the legal ramifications that are befalling him.

I truly just wanted to swoop in and rescue poor Jim. He was a kind-hearted soul with no ill-will intended to anyone (highway man aspirations notwithstanding) and he just could not seem to understand what all these problems were and how to make all these people (his neighbours, the police, the RSPCA, the council...) happy. In Jim, Briggs created an honest and touching representation of developmental delay in adulthood, which is so frequently under or poorly represented.

Briggs merges reality and fantasy beautifully in his illustrations to fully capture the way Jim's mind works and how he sees the world. The text and storyline is charmingly endearing, finding the perfect level of textually representing Jim's difficulties with language. You will read this book with newfound empathy.

Rating: 4/5

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