An exciting variety of words and pictures in a beautifully designed poetry collection that reminds us just how “dead normal” death is
Unique, unorthodox and unflinching: this describes children’s writer Bette Westera and illustrator Sylvia Weve’s approach to death in all its aspects. These poems, rhymes and songs range from poignant to light-hearted in tone and invite the reader to recite them out loud. Weve’s outstanding, evocative illustrations are marked by their diversity of style, composition and atmosphere, beautifully complementing the poems and completing the collection.
The notion behind Dead Simple is that the only certainty in our lives is death – and that we’d better get used to that idea. Writing about such a theme without resorting to clichés or pretension is no easy task, but Westera does a magnificent job.
No matter what subject she explores – the existence of heaven, suicide, inheritance, mourning rituals in other cultures, epitaphs, funeral cards – every poem is a sublime combination of form, content and tone.
The watery grave of “little Klaas, barely thirteen years old” sounds like a ballad, while the anaphoric repetition of “Never again” in “Never again is forever” has the force of a cry from the heart, and the mesmerising rhythm of “Sky Burial”suggests a mantra.
Dead Simple is not a heavy or depressing book though, owing its lightness to Westera’s wicked sense of humour, as she proves herself a kindred spirit of Annie M.G. Schmidt.
Illustrator Weve, too, calls on all kinds of registers, making inventive use of the varying page widths within the book. Cartoonish pictures – such as the family portrait with the skulls of distant ancestors in the foreground – alternate with more abstract images. Where the subject is too vast to be neatly depicted, such as the elusive nature of time, she paints rounded shapes and rough brushstrokes in earthy colours to suggest the circle of life. Dead Simple – this wonderful collection of poetry and illustrations is anything but.