Gast is an exquisitely crafted story, not only of the murder mystery at the center of the plot, but of the young protagonist uncovering some very real and shocking truths about human interactions. Carol Swain delivers a highly restrained variety of storytelling that begs the audience to reflect on new information along with the main character, rather than speed through the textured charcoal artwork.
The story follows a young girl named Helen who has just moved from the city to the Wales countryside. In this new environment she has latched onto birdwatching as a hobby, and when a neighbor tells her about a “rare bird” that killed itself she becomes curious. Signs quickly point to the fact that this “rare bird” was not a bird at all, but a transgendered person, named Emrys, who had been living in solitude on a nearby farm. The story has been described as a murder mystery, but the mystery stems from the youthfulness and innocence of Helen rather than a more traditional whodunnit.
Visiting Emrys farm, Helen finds a bag of cosmetics and a used shotgun cartridge. This propels her investigation into interviewing other neighbors, none of whom have much to say about Emrys, and even Emrys farm animals, who have plenty to say. This investigation serves as a fascinating set of revelations to Helen regarding not only the death of Emrys, but also the nature of human interaction with transgendered people. The animals also provide a unique and interesting perspective on the nature of human interaction, constantly wanting to distill things down into their simplest terms to make sense in their simpler minds, yet still having incredible insight.
Helen retraces Emrys daily routine in her efforts to better understand what happened, and she meets a few people of importance in Emry’s life. She even travels to Oswestry to visit the diner that Emrys had eaten at every day. Sitting in the same seat as Emry she deliberately put herself in his place, trying her best to see the world from his perspective, people-watching passer-bys near the diner, giving a sliver of insight to the mental turmoils that may have troubled Emrys.
This book is the definition of arthouse comic. It’s an incredibly told, character driven, exploration of humanity. However, if you are looking for something with a polished sheen and lighthearted fun this is probably not the book for you. It treads in complex philosophical questions and themes, and despite the very low word count it urges readers to take their time and consider all the things that Helen is uncovering.