Better late than never—American graphic-narrative fans will embrace a memoir that ranks with the best.

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BLUE PILLS

A POSITIVE LOVE STORY

A compelling graphic memoir about desire and illness, and the depth of love that often results.

Published in the artist’s native Switzerland in 2001 but not translated from the French until now, this prize-winning work details the romance of a Geneva couple, Fred and Cati. They meet at a party, where her attractiveness and abandon strike a spark in him. “What kind of girl is this who allows herself to drink Champagne in a swimming pool with a wet t-shirt, while managing to remain classy and in good taste?” he asks. In the years that follow, they run into each other occasionally, while their lives otherwise take different paths. The next time they truly connect is on the cusp of the millennium, at yet another party, where Cati looks “frail and pale. . .more beautiful than ever.” Not only does she have a failed marriage and a young son, but both she and her son have HIV. Much of the memoir concerns the complicated relationship that Fred, who hates hospitals, develops with Cati’s son; much of the rest concerns the equally complicated but rapturously sensual relationship he enjoys with Cati, whose illness arouses dread as well as desire within him. Even after a doctor assures him that he has as much chance of contracting the virus from her—particularly if they’re careful—as he has of being chased by a rhino through the streets of the city, he ultimately confronts even bigger fears that lurk inside himself. This material would be sufficiently riveting if it were all prose, but the drawings of Peeters are what elevate the book to another level, as he evocatively captures not only physical settings (Geneva, the hospital) but the attraction between Fred and Cati and the darkest musings of his psyche.

Better late than never—American graphic-narrative fans will embrace a memoir that ranks with the best.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-618-82099-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2007

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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