The Haunting Beauty Of Borja González’s ‘A Gift For A Ghost’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

A girl and a skeleton meet in a forest. Neither is what they seem, but then what would be the fun in having all the answers? Reading Borja González’s A Gift for A Ghost is a journey. Only in seeing it through to the end can the pieces start to fall into place.

It’s a book that doesn’t take well to summarization. While each moment is spellbinding, it’s the experience of reading them all together that makes this graphic novel so engrossing. Lines are constantly being blurred, starting with time. Our story begins in 1856. Teresa (the girl) looks like a heroine out of a gothic novel. Wandering the woods at night, in an off-shoulder dress, her reaction to the skeleton couldn’t be less delicate
It’s one of the reasons why it’s so easy to suppose she might really be from 2016. That’s the other year González singles out and he couldn’t make the transition any clearer. While shades of gray pervade in the 21st century, it’s the 19th century that embraces color (an interesting change on the tendency to represent the past in black and white).
Despite all (color) signs pointing to them being different people, Teresa and Gloria look a lot alike – so much so that it’s easy to mistake Gloria for Teresa when she’s first introduced in 2016 (raising questions like was Teresa ever from 1846 and could Gloria be some future relation?). Since González doesn’t give his characters facial features, either, they have less identifying markers to begin with, so it’s not until Gloria meets up with her punk band, The Black Holes, that her name is confirmed.
Due purely to her being the first person introduced in 2016, the assumption is that Gloria will be that century’s point person. There’s a strong case to be made for one of her bandmates, though, as González again plays with readers’ expectations by changing the focus to Laura, who writes the band’s songs.
Back in the 19th century, daylight suddenly switches the atmosphere from gothic to Jane Austen. It turns out Teresa is expected to make her debut soon but would rather spend her free time writing poetry instead. All of these switches keep readers on their toes, elevating the story from a straightforward plot to one that is sweeping with twists and turns. While the two timelines have motifs in common, understanding why they’ve been brought together takes patience and a willingness to forge ahead while unsure.
What González understands extremely well (and fans of TV shows like Penny Dreadful will know this, too) is how much horror and beauty go hand and hand. The band’s rehearsal space and Gloria’s bedroom are covered with posters for horror movies, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Hammer Film’s The Gorgon. Horror is the genre Teresa writes poetry for and, instead of transforming into werewolves, the characters in her puppet show sprout flowers from their heads. Sometimes water is a gateway to the underworld and other times a butterfly can reenact Edgar Allan Poe’s A Tell-Tale Heart.
It can take a few attempts to understand what González is trying to say, but the trick is to keep going. Those who aren’t put off and take the plunge will find a graphic novel that is as exquisite as it is haunting.
A Gift for a Ghost is available now from Abrams ComicArts.

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