Let’s Compromise and Say I’m Right, by Mel Calman, is a book of cartoons depicting, with equal degrees of humour and pathos, the nuanced insecurity, self delusion and malcontent to be found within relationships. It gently mocks the sexes expectations of love and marriage, but with wit and insight.
This selection has been chosen by the late artist’s daughter, Stephanie, who also writes the introduction. After a forward by Michael Palin, the minimalist drawings are given space to eloquently convey Calman’s observations of the human condition.
It is an easy little book to flick through, evoking a wry recognition of familiar foibles. I laughed at the picture of the woman standing at the Information desk asking the staff member, “Could you tell me if I’m attractive?” Oh, that we could be brazen enough to ask and honestly answer such questions. The couple sitting at the table where the man asks, “What do you really want?”, to which the woman replies, “I want you to know without my telling you” reminded me of too many couples of my acquaintance.
And this is the appeal of the book, that it takes familiar concerns and irritations, and condenses them into simple pictures which each say so much.
As the book progresses the couples become more confrontational. The man and woman stare angrily at each other as she demands, “Please don’t interrupt me when I’m interrupting”. The man suggests to the woman on a date, “Pretend I’m not your husband and enjoy yourself”. A man opines to his drinking companion, “Your trouble is that your wife understands you”.
After the cartoons on courtship and marriage comes the breakup. The wife stands beside her suitcase asking her husband, “If you’re so perfect why am I leaving?”
And then, gluttons for punishment or eternally hopeful, they try again leading to further complications. The woman on the phone tells her listener, “We’re going to rent a villa with my kids, his kids, and our kids – to get away from it all”.
In recognising the small failures depicted there is the offer of a chance at redemption. The pompous self importance falls away when shown to be ridiculous; the silent reproach can be laughed at when its futility is understood.
Recommended for anyone who has ever wondered at the insensitivity or idiocy of their partner. However, be warned, readers will likely learn something similar of themselves.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Souvenir Press.