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Love and death
on 25 June 2014
I read this superb graphic novel after watching the award winning, controversial film version (which was somewhat disowned by the graphic novel's author Julie Maroh). There are differences, but both book and film are fantastic in their own right.
The film is powerful, gripping and emotionally draining, with a magnificent central performance by Adele Exarchopoulos, who was unjustly overlooked for major awards in my view. The GN may be a more subtle pleasure but, in both story and art, it is of comparable excellence.
It tells the story of Clementine, a teenaged French girl, eventually coming to terms with her sexuality (she is gay), and of her relationship with the love of her life, the blue-haired Emma, older and more experienced if not wiser. The story is told mostly in flashback, as Emma reads through Clementine's diaries following a tragic event.
Past and present are depicted in distinct colour schemes (full but muted colour for the present; sepia tones, apart from one other colour -- blue of course -- for the past). This works really effectively, and the splashes of blue serve to highlight dreams, visions and images that are important to Clementine.
In fact, the art throughout is a real strength: deceptively simple, subtle, explicit at times, and always beautifully composed. Maroh has a real talent for conveying characters' emotions through their body language and facial expressions. Unlike a lot of comics art, nothing is exaggerated -- everything looks natural.
And the art serves the story perfectly. It is a simple narrative, with little in the way of contrivance or plot, but filled with complex, conflicting emotions. Essentially, we see Clementine as she grows up from uncertain teenager to adulthood, revealing her fears, insecurities and desires to her diary. As it is Clementine's narrative, we do not really get to know many of the other characters that well -- Emma to some extent as the object of Clementine's growing love, Clementine's parents and and some of her friends -- she is such a well-drawn, relatable and sympathetic character that I was completely moved by her struggles and triumphs.
Their love affair ends harshly (though not as crushingly as in the film), and although there is a subsequent reconciliation of sorts (more so than in the film), the ending is devastating. This may not be what the reader wants, but it certainly adds to the emotional impact.
Overall, a powerful, beautifully illustrated graphic novel, and highly recommended.