Book review: Together, by Luke Adam Hawker

Tired of reading about the pandemic? A new graphic novel offers an alternative way of reflecting on a year when everything changed, writes Roger Cox

Detail of an illustration from Together, by Luke Adam Hawker

With the one-year anniversary of the first UK lockdown imminent, countless column inches will inevitably be devoted, in the coming days, to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic: the horrific death toll, obviously, and the detrimental effects than long periods of confinement have had on people's mental health, not to mention the damage done to people's livelihoods and to children's education, and the way in which these things have made an unequal society even more unequal.

Trouble is, we've read it all before – we've been reading about it constantly for the last year – and after a while all those statistics, horrific as they are, start to lose their potency. If 125,000 people had all died suddenly yesterday somewhere in the UK – say, in an enormous gas explosion that had wiped out a city roughly the same size as Exeter – then it might have been easier for us to grasp the enormity of the tragedy, and to mourn it. There is something oddly numbing, though, about living through a slow-motion catastrophe like this one and – perhaps because so many of us have followed it by obsessively scrolling through news stories on our phone screens – text no longer seems like an adequate medium in which to reflect on it and consider it afresh.

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So, enter the exceptionally talented Luke Adam Hawker, who worked as an architectural designer before becoming a full-time artist in 2015. During the first lockdown an image he posted on his Instagram account of the daily clap for carers caught the attention of editor Marianne Laidlaw, and she suggested they collaborate on a book together, charting the everyday experiences of living through a pandemic. Unable to meet up in person, the duo collaborated via Zoom over a period of several months, with Hawker providing the illustrations and Laidlaw writing the text, and the resulting book – simply titled Together – is due to be published on 18 March, a year to the day since the UK entered its first lockdown.

Together, by Luke Adam Hawker

In terms of the overarching concept, it's all very subtly, tastefully done. The pandemic is never referenced specifically. Instead, the story, such as it is, follows a paunchy, late-middle-aged man and his dog as they experience a great storm, which forces everyone into their houses, rendering even the busiest parts of their city "quiet, where once there was an orchestra of noise."

There are some wonderfully pertinent observations, though, that make it abundantly clear which "storm" is being referred to: a drawing of a woman, her shopping trolley already comically over-laden, reaching for the final toilet roll on an otherwise empty shelf certainly strikes a chord, as does an image of people out on apartment balconies playing various musical instruments. It would have been easy for a project like this to come across as overly sentimental, but somehow Hawker's images always seem to have just the right mixture of gravitas and sly, understated humour. Is the hopeful ending hopelessly naive? Perhaps. I suppose it depends what direction we decide to move off in, once all this is finally over.

Together, by Luke Adam Hawker, Kyle Books, £16.99

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Detail of an illustration from Together, by Luke Adam Hawker

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