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Archaia

Plate Tectonics: An Illustrated Memoir

Illustrator Margaux Motin chronicles her mid-thirties in this graphic novel memoir. It was a time of upheaval for her, as she got divorced and found herself raising her young daughter on her own. Through a series of loosely-connected vignettes, we see Margaux try to juggle these changes and get back on her feet while keeping her head up, staying connected with friends, and finding love again.

I’m all for little vignettes to tell a bigger story, but these seemed far too scattered to be effective. I felt at times as if I was reading a collection of Motin’s work rather than her memoir. The tone of the writing is inconsistent, and I think that was the biggest problem. On one page we are dealing with a deep personal issue, and on the next we’re presented with a funny moment with the daughter. I honestly didn’t even realize it was supposed to be a cohesive narrative until a love interest showed up, and we got a couple vignettes of him in a row. I can see the appeal of this style, and for the most part the whole book was light-hearted in tone, but these switches were too abrupt and jarring for me.

I have to admit that reading has been very hard for me lately due to the pandemic and related anxiety, so perhaps my own limited mental capacity crippled my ability to follow and enjoy the story to its full potential.

To make up for this, Motin’s art is wonderful. Her figures are in a tall, willowy style that recalls fashion illustrations, but are also a little cartoony and exaggerated, to play up the melodrama and visual gags. There are some pages with photographs of (usually) landscapes, where Motin has drawn in a figure on top of them. These were cool to look at! Their placement served, not necessarily as chapter breaks, but all the same a little break up of all the vignettes that make up the story.

There are a few adult themes, scenes, and instances of strong language, but they are few and far between and (for the most part) tasteful and I would give it to a teen. While I found the tone and writing inconsistent, the art was more than enough to salvage this read for me.

– Kathleen

Motin, Margaux. Plate Tectonics: An Illustrated Memoir. 2019.

The Man Who Came Down The Attic Stairs

This thin graphic novel packed quite a punch, that effectively tied postpartum depression with a creepy noir vibe.

Set in what looks like the French countryside, a young married couple purchase a charming old home, in preparation for the child they are expecting. During move-in day, the husband is carrying up supplies to the attic when his wife hears a huge crash. Panicked, she is about to start upstairs when her husband Thomas comes down the attic stairs stone-faced, insisting that he simply tripped and everything is fine. Her water breaks at this moment.

The next scene is set in the near future as they are home with their new daughter Roslin who seems to have a bad case of colic, and she cries incessantly. Emma’s husband seems strangely detached, never complaining of the baby’s never-ending crying, yet not the playful man we first met at the beginning of the story. Not surprisingly Emma is at her wit’s end and doesn’t feel connected to her child. The pressures of new motherhood, an eerily changed husband, and her worries about her child’s health weigh heavily on her. Afraid of being perceived as a bad mother, she lashes out at some neighborhood women when she feels judged by them.

While speaking to a psychiatrist about her postpartum depression and her suspicions about what happened to her husband in the attic, a shocking revelation is revealed. The ending is deliberately ambiguous, so you don’t know quite what to believe.

Rendered in black and white, the artwork is atmospheric and sinister. The drawings gave a real sense of time and place, plus Emma’s unending housework will give you a feeling of claustrophobia. I found the story reminiscent of Emily Carroll’s Through The Woods and Shirley’s Jackson’s short stories (as coincidence would have it, a month ago I read The Lottery and Other Short Stories by Jackson).  Comparing Celine Loup to these other two women authors is praise indeed, so I will seek out future work by her.

-Nancy

Persephone

Persephone is just a regular girl… and, well, that’s sort of the problem. Her mother, Demeter, is a powerful witch and Persephone has no powers whatsoever! People have expectations for Persephone that she feels she’s not able to meet. Persephone knows she’s adopted, but has a feeling that her mother is keeping more secrets from her; Demeter shuts down at Persephone’s questions about her birth, her lack of powers, about Demeter’s role in the war with The Underworld. Adding to her curiosity are the recurring nightmares she’s having. Armed with her mother’s diary for a school trip, Persephone decides to find out the truth for herself. Never did she imagine she’d be going to Hades herself to find her answers…

This one was praised in advanced reviews as a phenomenal coming-of-age story – but I found it rather flat. The pastel-colored art is messy and hard to get through. While it is a retelling of the myth of Hades and Persephone, the setting is a mashup of magical, modern, and myth that doesn’t quite mesh. I could easily see Persephone’s inner struggle of this storyline working well enough on its own in the original Greek mythology setting, but the Studio Ghibli-like magical realism the author was going for didn’t quite fit right. If you go in not expecting it to be a carbon copy of the original myth, you’ll probably enjoy it more than I did!

– Kathleen

Locatelli-Kournwsky, Loïc. Persephone. 2018.

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