Written and illustrated by Øivind Hovland
There’s something wrong within A Day in the Life of Alfred. An insidious, gradual feeling of unease that will work its way into your subconscious without you even realising it. Perhaps it’s due to the book’s format, a sort of picture book for adults in which Norwegian-born artist Øivind Hovland uses minimal words to convey his story, that it only becomes apparent quite how claustrophobic and downright depressing A Day in the Life is several minutes after you’ve finished reading.
This is Hovland’s second book, a spiritual follow-up to Trial and Error: The Aviated Efforts of Jean Baptiste de Bomberaque, and what perhaps links the two books is that they both express an emotion. While Trial and Error chronicled one man’s obsession with flight, A Day in the Life is a haunting tale of isolation and the residual effects of bullying. This naturally makes it a somewhat less charming and humour-laden read, but Hovland’s knack for layered storytelling, even when confines to just 25 images and less than 500 words, shines through nevertheless.
Hovland’s art is similarly different from Trial and Error, at times resembling the frustrated scribblings of a troubled, possibly autistic individual. Alfred is a featureless figure throughout, dressed in Ignatius J. Reilly styled layers, his red overcoat and mittens the only colour in an otherwise monochrome book. Only on a second reading did I appreciate the layers of meaning in Hovland’s illustrations, the repetition of patterns and shapes that define his lonesome protagonist.
As he embarks on his monotonous journey to work, A Day in the Life of Alfred’s crimson everyman becomes an increasingly tormented figure, with his need for daily routine all that justifies his solitary existence. But perhaps what’s most tragic about Alfred is just how familiar his perpetual suffering feels.