Lulu is an ordinary middle class French woman. Her exitence is fairly typical for a woman in her 40s: she has a loveless marriage with a man who bullys her; her kids have their own lives; her friends and her surroundings are full, drab and ordinary. She’s been out of the workforce so long that she can’t find a job. “I don’t like my life.” She says. “Nothing’s happening.”
So completely on a whim, Lulu decides to walk away from that life and towards… who knows what, and isn’t that all part of the thrill of the adventure. Hitching a ride with a traveling salesman who happens to be heading to the French Coast, Lulu finds herself free for the first time ever. She has no responsibilities nor family she to whom she has to pay attention. Instead, she lands in a lovely pastoral seaside French village as a true outsider.
Cartoonist Étienne Davodeau creates a story that somehow doesn’t feel like a Lifetime TV movie but instead feels like an intriguing character exploration that reveals much about the banalities of modern times as it explores Lulu’s experiences. I was fascinated by the way that she frees herself up to become part of a relationship that brings her much joy even while she knows in her heart that it won’t last.
Part of the power of Davodeau’s work comes from the fact that so many of these characters are middle-aged and plain. Lulu’s face is wrinkled and overly wide. She’s had a few experiences in her life and she shows them on her face. Her paramour Charles is bald and slightly overweight with a big nose, but those aren’t the problems that they might be for a younger heroine; in fact, in some ways they are reassuring. In this ordinariness lies real happiness.
Charles and his brothers eke out a living on the countryside restoring trailers at a trailer park, but they mostly fail at it and as the story unfolds we quickly understand have a darker backstory than Lulu seems to see. But in this low-key and naturalistic graphic novel, such issues are background matters. What we’re truly concerned with is our protagonist’s renewal.
Davodeau’s presentation here is marvelous. She chooses a palette of rich pastels to depict the characters’ world, which gives the book a feeling both of realistic grounding and a kind of dreamlike curiosity. She does a marvelous job with facial features and body language as well, conveying much in a series of gloriously realized panels.
Lulu Anew is a daydream of transcending middle-class existence. It has a strong heart to it, but also some very funny laughs (Lulu’s attempt to steal a handbag from an elderly woman had me howling) and a delightful ending. There’s a soul and authenticity here that separates Lulu Anew from other stories of this type, and a maturity that sets it aside from recent books like The Sculptor. In the end, Lulu has succeeded in her quixotic quest, in ways that neither reader nor character could have expected.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with this very special ordinary woman.