Lucille (Top Shelf)

Girl meets boy and they run away together, but the story subtly builds to so much more in this powerful French graphic novel.


544 pgs. B&W; $29.95
(W / A: Ludovic Debeurme)
I firmly believe there is a graphic novel out there for everyone, and for some people, Ludovic Debeurme’s Lucille will be their graphic novel. There’s something about the simple line drawings and the text that, when woven together, create something more than either could be alone. It is the type of story the graphic novel was meant for.
Lucille‘s story is familiar enough: girl is unhappy until she meets boy and they run away together. The story evolves gradually, starting with introductions to both characters who seem as "normal" as teenagers can be. Chapter by chapter, the layers start to appear. Lucille is anorexic and Arthur has OCD. Both of them have issues with their families. High school and all the intensity that went with it may be far behind me, but I can say with relative certainty that Debeurme "nailed it." He would have been my champion if I’d read this at 16. When the book’s stars meet and decide to run away, you want to cheer for them, but they’re so real you know that a happy ending is unlikely.
I was easily lured into Debeurme’s world. Every issue is addressed head on and he captures the details of living with a mental illness. Arthur is terrified that people will die if he stops counting. Wasting away to nothing, Lucille still considers food to be poison. Lucille’s mother is completely helpless in the face of her daughter’s illness. Arthur’s father’s alcoholism is ruining their lives but he’s powerless to fight it. Sex and violence are a natural part of these lives, and the frankness with which everything is depicted might turn off some readers. The book readily earns the publisher’s 17+ rating, but nothing feels gratuitous.
Debeurme has already won several awards for the original French version, and while the story has a slightly "European" feel to it, I was rarely aware that I was reading a translation. When Lucille and Arthur decide to run away to Italy, I thought that was absurdly ambitious. It was only when I forced myself to put the story in its proper geographical context that I considered it was the small town America equivalent of "let’s run away to California". 
A few times, Debeurme switches gears and suddenly it is as if Lucille and Arthur are looking at old photographs and reminiscing about the moments they have captured. The switches are abrupt and mid-chapter without any warning. Each time it happened, it took me a few pages to adjust. I appreciate why the choice was made, but a bit of warning or prelude would have been helpful. Aside from that minor frustration, my only real disappointment was that the English translation lost the cursive lettering of the original French. The typeface still looks hand-written, as if you’re reading a page from Lucille’s diary, but it lost some of the "French" feel. Perhaps that was intentional, to keep the "universal" feel of Lucille and Arthur’s journey.
The book is a hefty 500+ pages and may seem daunting, but it’s not. I knocked it out in about an hour, much to my eventual dismay. There is a lot of white space and text-less pages that you speed through to get to the chapter’s resolution. For most of the characters, actions communicate more than words, so illustrations carry the lion’s share of the storytelling. In a world full of so much visual noise, reading Lucille felt like an indulgence.
I just wish my French was better so I could pick up the sequel Renee now instead of waiting for the yet-to-be-announced English translation. | Kelly Stephenson
Click here for a preview of Lucille, courtesy of Top Shelf.

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