by Clément Loïc, Montel Anne
Publisher: Europe Comics
Publication Date: November 20, 2019
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:
Rose is not a happy young woman; she is closed off and angry and she hates her job. But her life changes drastically when she inherits her father's bakery in a small town in Brittany. Returning to a place that brought her both joy and grief forces her to confront painful memories of her past and find the courage to open her heart to a new, happier life that awaits her if she will just let it. A story about new beginnings, filled with small town charm, delicious pastries and the warmth of home and friends.
From the description, I was expecting a French sort of Hallmark-y graphic novel with lots of delicious baked goods. That’s not quite what this is, however.
Estranged from her father since she was eight, Rose returns to her home village in Brittany after his death twenty years later. She intends to sell the family bakery and go back to her life in Paris, but a series of mishaps lead to her missing her train and reconnecting with her Aunt Marronde and childhood friend Gael. After finding her father’s diary, she starts to wonder how much of what her mother told her about her father was actually true, and she decides to reopen the bakery. But will running a small business in a dying village help her come to terms with her father’s death, or just reopen old wounds?
Rose, like her namesake, is prickly and defensive, or as she describes herself, “built on a foundation of cynicism, supported by walls of indifference.” While she’s not a completely awful person, she does tend to lash out at those she’s closest to, like Aunt Marronde and Gael. Aunt Marronde is a humorous character, in the vein of cantankerous old woman everywhere, and Rose convinces her to stay on and continue helping her with the bakery. Gael, on the other hand, is Rose’s exact opposite – as friendly as a labrador retriever and seemingly not turned off by Rose’s moods and wishy washiness. While I love the “childhood friends reconnect” trope, the romance between Gael and Rose, while sweet overall, moved too quickly and didn’t have quite enough substance. Rose is downright cruel to him at times, and I never felt like she sufficiently apologized or explained her actions, and for the most part, Gael just accepts that.
The romance also took away from other aspects of the book. I was hoping for more cooking goodness, like the gorgeous page showing Aunt Marronde’s recipe for tomato soup, and while there’s several lovely panels showing Aunt Marronde or Rose baking, there’s a lot more dealing with Gael and Rose’s relationship. I also wanted more exploration of Rose’s relationship with her father, especially since that’s the reason she even returned to the village in the first place.
The watercolor art is sweet and matches the whimsical nature of the comic. The French village and its inhabitants are lovingly detailed, and the depictions of village life are cozy and sweet. The author and illustrator seem to especially love cats. Each chapter starts with a page from the perspective of the town’s cats, for instance, which is mostly hilarious, except for when one of the cats jokes about drowning kittens in the river (?!?!).
My main issue with the book is a particular scene from the middle of the graphic novel. It’s a very secularist French exchange between one of Rose’s friends and a group of Muslim men. For lack of any other work in the village, two of the men work at the local vineyard picking grapes, which a third protests is against Islam since alcohol is forbidden. But ah, Rose’s friend protests, France’s social programs are funded by taxes on things like the vineyard’s wine, so living in France itself would be forbidden. What? This is the sort of ridiculously pat “AHA! I’ve got you!” argument that I expect from teenagers, and I have absolutely no idea what the purpose was including this in the book. The men are never seen again, and the friend mostly serves as a foil for Rose to talk about the various men in her life (boss, lover, or father, take your pick). I know the French prioritize separation of church and state over free speech (for instance, “conspicuous” religious symbols like large crosses, yarmulkes, turbans or hijab are banned in French public schools) but from my American perspective, this crossed the line into badgering.
Overall, while this wasn’t what I expected from the blurb, I still enjoyed it. The only thing that truly bothered me was the casual Islamophobia. I’m not quite sure how to rate this due to that, so I’ll go with three stars and a very strong content warning.