Translated from French by Aleshia Jensen, Camille Jourdy’s novel follows Juliette’s trip home from Paris to visit her more provincial family. She is also on a journey to revisit her roots and to handle her own growing, crippling anxiety and fears. While her family is delighted to see her, they do not actually pay any attention to her and her increasing vulnerability because they are busy with their own lives, issues, and family ties. Her family is complicated and entirely relatable and authentic to readers of this gentle slice-of-life graphic novel.
While the graphic novel is filled with people of all sizes and backgrounds the main characters are members of Juliette’s immediate family. Juliette’s older sister Marylou, a married mother of two children, has a lover, a man who works in a costume shop and visits her dressed as a bear, a wolf, a white rabbit, and as a ghost. They have lustful and joyful sex on Thursdays in the greenhouse in her backyard.
Marylou is happy with having an illicit affair, but nameless Lover Boy wants more of a permanent relationship. The sisters’ parents have been divorced for a long time but still torment each other each time they meet. Their mother dresses and behaves as a free spirit, taking on a series of younger lovers as well as painting large abstracts that are displayed in a local gallery. Their father, who Juliette is staying with during her visit, is the opposite, he is filled with self-doubts and convinced that he is developing dementia. Juliette’s grandmother no longer recognizes family members or has a reliable memory except when she reveals a long-kept family secret to Juliette.
The only non-family main character is Georges, the current tenant of the apartment where Juliette and Marylou lived as children. He is also a lost soul and someone seeking restoration and love in the local bar. His encounters with Juliette offer the possibility of a romantic closure for the two of them and the duckling they adopted but, sorry for the spoiler, this is not the direction the author takes the reader.
This is a novel of close encounters and careful observation of the setting, the people, and their relationships. It is done without judgment and the reader glides along with Juliette as she maneuvers through emotional and timeless passages of disappointment, mortality, and fading dreams to a place Juliette and Georges refer to, the “tragic dimension.” At the same time, it is also a novel filled with wonder, humor, and enjoyment for the reader.
Jensen’s translation from the original French presents, with sharpness and amusement, a natural cadence of family discussions. We can see, hear, and feel each of the individual characters in the town and they look and sound like members of a close-knit community anywhere. The point of view often shifts without warning from small encounters to larger ones but the shifts do not feel disjointed as the details in each of the panels slow the reader into a meditative state where moving from one situation to another seems natural and organic. This is a novel to be savored and not rushed in the least.
First published in French in 2016, Juliette is Jourdy’s eighth book, and her expertise is immediately recognizable as she is effective in control of the pacing, the panels, the color, the storyline, and her characters. Her illustrations are precise and filled with minute details of family and small-town life. These details are even more pronounced because of the simplicity of the background and the shortage of borders. Most pages are filled with simple vignettes, snapshots of the characters, their relationships, and environment. These busy pages are interspersed with full page drawings that are filled with deeper color tones that often indicate a change of tone or staging. A caveat for public library collections: there are numerous pages filled with Marylou and Lover Boy’s sexual encounters in the garden. These are tastefully done but I think some North American communities may not be as open as the French may be in their depictions of humanity in all their encounters.
The subtitle, ‘or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring’ is evocative and revealing by the end of the novel. It may refer to the rather humorous adventures of the ‘ghost’ hiding from disclosure or, more possibly, the ghosts of memory, family relationships, and our own selves.
Juliette or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring
By Camille Jourdy
Drawn & Quarterly, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: adult
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: French,
Character Representation: French, Anxiety, Depression