The Book of Memory Gaps: A review of an illustrative experiment

Let’s start with the facts.

Cecilia Ruiz is the author and illustrator of The Book of Memory Gaps. She has an MFA from the SVA in NYC (the School of Visual Arts is the crème de la crème of 2D art education). She has illustrated for magazines like Accent, La Peste, and Life & Style. She’s also done the art for a couple books. As far as I can tell, The Book of Memory Gaps is the first book that she’s illustrated and written.

If you check out her portfolio on Cargo Collective, you can see her other work. I would like to draw your attention to the illustrations under the category: Personal Project. ‘Welcome Misfortune’ and ‘Box of Extraordinary Deaths’. Both are an illustrated series, pay attention to the latter. The format of ‘Box of Extraordinary Deaths’ is a quiet illustration accompanied by a pithy text which adds a small narrative and more importantly, a context.

Isadora Duncan is the most successful illustration of the set. It anticipates the disaster with a humorous and innocent voice, as if the dancer is skipping out the door to meet her friends, and pulls the scarf with her as an afterthought.

I mention this set of illustrations because The Book of Memory Gaps follows the exact same pattern. There are 14 vignettes that give a brief synopsis about each character accompanied by a “locket” sized cameo illustration of the character and a larger illustration of the character in his or her current context. The characters are tied together by the uniqueness of their memories and the small details that sets the collective story in a somber town that is reminiscent of a former USSR country (the Republic of Zubrowka, perhaps).

What is important to note is that each character is completely separate and isolated. Not only from the other characters, from any other character, but also from reality. The result is a haunting, quiet, and depressing look at flat characters who are stuck on repeat. You know how creepy it is to hear a record play the same two seconds of recording over and over again because somewhere along the way it got stuck? It’s like a book about that.

Compared to her other works, the ones in The Book of Memory Gaps are much more stagnant, less funny, and bleaker. I suppose this is intentional, considering the subject matter and setting. I picked two of my favorites to show you.

The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz

The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz

As you can see, her style leans more towards magazine editorial rather than a stand-alone book that relies heavily on illustration for three-fourths of its content. It really surprised me when I reached the end of the book in less than seven minutes (really). Like, that’s it?

So where does this book fit? As a senior thesis project, in a bookshelf of illustration books for inspiration to artists, as an extended visual essay in an eclectic magazine that specializes in such things. It’s an interesting experiment, and I’m happy for this artist’s career advancement, but does it deliver the purposed $16.95 worth of content? Debatable.

note: I received an advanced e-copy for review purposes but that did not affect my honest opinion of the book.

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