Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Lightness by Catherine Meurisse


Lightness by Catherine Meurisse
First published in French as La Legerete by Dargaud in France in 2016. English language translation by James Hogan and Matt Madden published by Europe Comics in June 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : unavailable
Wordery : unavailable
Waterstones : unavailable
Amazon : from £8.99 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

In the aftermath of the murderous attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices on January 7, 2015, cartoonist Catherine Meurisse struggles with the trauma of losing her friends and looks for a way to move forward with her life and her art. She soon enters a dissociative state where she loses her memories, especially those associated with esthetic experiences. This leads her on a quest to seek beauty and lightness in the world around her with the help of guiding lights including Proust, Stendhal, Baudelaire, and two provocative graffiti artists. Throughout the book, Meurisse uses her limber cartooning and dynamic writing to weave a tapestry of raw emotion and philosophical reflection laced with a strain of wry humor.

I vividly remember the proliferation of 'Je Suis Charlie' in the months immediately following the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and still sometimes spot the slogan as we travel in France. For those of us not directly affected, life has moved on. Catherine Meurisse however, would probably have been killed in her Charlie Hebdo offices on that day had it not been for the chance combination of oversleeping and a missed bus. In this graphic novel memoir, she shows us her immediate shock and her lengthy process of attempting to come to terms with both the loss of her long-time colleagues and her own survival.

At the beginning of Lightness, I was disappointed by the simplistic cartoon self-portraits of Catherine. I hadn't seen any of her work before so was expecting a richer style - more common to graphic novels - rather than that of a newspaper cartoon. As the story progresses, I felt the flexibility of this simple style did suit the tale especially when it contrasts with detailed representations of classic artworks or embellished with colour sweeps that beautifully evoke the natural world.

Lightness is a memoir about struggling through grief so it is never a light read, even though there is humour dotted through its pages. Meurisse drew me into her experiences and I felt more emotionally involved than I had expected. Where I felt disconnected though was in a lack of knowledge about classic literature and art. I haven't (yet!) read Proust or Stendhal and I am not sure if I have ever studied a Caravaggio painting either. I understood how these works were vital to Catherine's personal journey and recovery, but did find myself distanced her memoir at those points. I think Lightness is an important addition to our understanding of survivors' experiences, especially in this genre where it is likely to appeal to people who might not read a traditionally written memoir.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Catherine Meurisse / Graphic novels / Books from France

10 comments:

  1. I have trouble with books that deal with grief since they make me a bit anxious, but this definitely sounds like an important read, Stephanie!

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    1. Maybe steer clear of Lightness then. It does get pretty heavy in places

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  2. I can definitely see how one directly affected could never forget and need to work through a grief process. I agree that we need more books like this. Neat that the graphics worked well for the story, too.

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    1. I wasn't initially sure about the graphics, but they were powerful

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  3. I remember this, so horrible

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  4. That cover... *grabby hands* o.o

    In all seriousness, this sounds beautiful - I'll have to look out for it.

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    1. It is beautiful and upsetting and thought-provoking

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  5. I can't say I'm interested in this graphic novel at all... I don't like the sound of the art which is #1 in my book... but I have read a couple graphic novels from Europe and I'm LOVING THEM! I read Orphans vol 1 which was done by italian artists and quite loved it. And a couple of French series for middle grade which were fun! ❤️ Thanks for sharing Stephanie!

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    1. Most of the graphic novels I'm getting at the moment are European ones so hopefully I'll find others that are more tempting to you!

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