From a human vantage point Lauren Barnett’s Bernadette is a sedately paced affair. But then our viewpoint isn’t the important one in this tale of one cat’s ongoing conflict with the inanimate houseplants she so despises. Titular feline protagonist Bernadette is involved in a constant struggle to free her domain from the presence of the potted greenery that antagonises her, whether that be by routinely chewing on them or casually and deliberately knocking them off windowsills. But when a strangely alluring new addition to the house’s plant community arrives how will it affect the dynamics of her relationship with her floral foes?
On one level Barnett’s tale of an indifferent feline and her petulantly destructive urges is a slight one. But that’s really rather both the point and the inherent charm of this playful short. Barnett is adept at framing events in a very cat’s eye view of the world, emphasising how an entire world exists for Bernadette within the confines of her apartment’s walls, and slowing down the book’s narrative rhythm with sequences of one-panel pages that underline her more considered interactions with her environment. It’s a pacing that invites the reader to dwell on certain pages longer in order to experience her surroundings through her leisurely and more focused perspective.
It’s Bernadette’s internal monologue, though, that provokes the most laughs with its anthropomorphic toying, and its colloquial profanity which casts the character in dual frames of reference. Recognisably aspirational in her own way on the one hand and yet still embracing a catty otherness on the other. Her frequent dream sequences also see her crossing over into an incongruous but relatable realm of human experience as her territorial acts of terror slowly evolve into something more considered in a wittily bizarre set of slumbertime scenarios.
Barnett’s art has a loose and slightly dreamy quality that, combined with the lack of human presence in this story, ensures that we feel lost in the confines of her life and environs. But, ultimately, it’s the sheer sense of independence and that notorious feline entitlement that will no doubt bring the biggest smile to many pet owners’ faces in this very likeable and appealingly diverting comics one-shot.
Lauren Barnett (W/A) • Tinto Press, $10.00
Review by Andy Oliver