by Aude Picault
Publisher: Europe Comics
Publication Date: March 21, 2018
Genres: Graphic Novel
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Claire is a thirtysomething neonatal nurse who is becoming increasingly discouraged about her prospects of getting into a long-term relationship and starting a family. She thinks she may have finally met her man in Franck—if not a Prince Charming then at least a friendly and compatible person—but societal pressures and gender norms seem to rear their heads at every turn and Claire begins to wonder if it will ever be possible for her to be happy with another person on her own terms.
Aude Picault’s chronicle of everyday romance is full of wit and sympathy but it is also backed up by a bibliography of feminist essays and studies of gender relations, offering a valuable and complicated case study of the challenges facing modern women.
This is a translation of a French graphic novel. It’s an exploration of feminism and women’s roles in today’s society – as a sex object, girlfriend, wife and mother. It trots out some of the usual gender role stereotypes – women like taking care of people! boys need to be tough! – and depicts various relationship stages – from one-night-stands, to dating, to a longer term relationship, to marriage, to raising a baby, then children, then empty nesters.
Ms. Picault doesn’t pull any punches – she shows the various stages of women’s lives with brutal honesty. Claire is optimistic and a bit naive, and at thirtysomething, her clock is ticking. We’re first introduced to Claire doing her pre-date primping, and then, after several hilarious depictions of sex, her morning-after daydreams of a new relationship. Claire’s daydreams are particularly sweet, mostly because they’re of everyday interactions that most parents would take for granted – saying good morning to a cheerful little baby, pushing a young child on a swing, going grocery shopping as a family. These daydreams – along with the depictions of her work as a NICU nurse – were my favorite parts of the story. Claire has built up this ideal of family life and motherhood, but when she visits her friend Lo after she has a baby, she finds a tired, cranky woman, surrounded by a mess, constantly harping on everything her husband isn’t doing. Claire, and the reader, however, see her husband trying to help and being constantly badgered by Lo for not doing anything right. On a visit to her boyfriend’s family, she sees parents frustrated with their children, and sniping at each other over every little thing. Even Claire’s own mother is divorced, and she readily admits that getting married was a bad decision – except, of course, that she had Claire.
Over the course of the book, which takes place over several years, Claire slowly realizes that all these roles she’s aiming for – girlfriend, wife, mother – are who she is in relation to someone else, not who she is for herself. While I do think Ms. Picault shows a not particularly rosy view of family life and is particularly harsh against men in particular, she also shows how all of this is part of Claire’s journey.
The art is lovely – line drawings with washes of color. It impressed me, several times, how much emotion and expression could be conveyed with just a few lines. I adored Claire’s curves and her big smile! On the other hand, while the script-style lettering (honestly, I think it was a font, not hand lettering) fit the mood, it was extremely hard to read at times.
As for other cons, there’s a particular bit related to the trigger warning that I thought felt almost more like someone’s idea of a feminist checklist than anything else. I understood that this particular narrative choice meant that Claire had to actually take action, rather than just continuing coasting along, but given how emotionally fraught the subject matter is, it didn’t sit well with me.
Overall, this was a visually lovely chick lit graphic novel!