Zoe reviews Body Music by Julie Maroh

Body Music by Julie Maroh

Body Music is a graphic novel translated from French, written and drawn by nonbinary lesbian artist Julie Maroh, best known for their book Blue is the Warmest Color.

It’s a series of short 5-10 page vignettes about love and desire between different people in Montreal neighborhoods. The vignettes are connected by theme and location only. The book is packed with representation–there are queer people, straight people, polyamorous people, people of color, people with disabilities, trans people, and people of all ages. The variety of the characters and situations present images of all forms of love, from healthy long-term relationships to unhealthy long-term relationships, fuck buddies to polyamory to missed connections. Sometimes sexy, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, these stories reflect that there is no singular experience of love. One person confesses their romantic feelings to their partners, a mother and a son reminisce about her dead husband, two lesbians run into a straight man with a fetish, a couple relives their first meeting at a gay bar, among others.

For a series of themed vignettes, each is unique. The writing and art style shift each chapter, enough that it doesn’t feel like there were any repeats. I feel like ‘balance’ is the keyword for this book, which uses text and image in such a way that neither feels overbearing. Moments where one fails or suffers are counteracted by an abundance of the other. Simpler stories were augmented by engaging visuals and layouts. In moments where the art didn’t have as strong a grasp on me as a reader, a poetic monologue drew me back in.

Like many collections of short stories, there are some hits and there are some misses. Sometimes the vignettes are too short to do anything other than provide a second long snapshot, which can be unsatisfying. Because there is so little context to each story, it can take a couple of pages for the reader to understand what is going on. However, these are the minority. Most stories are either engaging or poignant, and I appreciated the balance between the two.

Not every chapter has something miraculous or revealing to say, which made the chapters that did hit that much harder. One vignette about a man waiting impatiently for his partner to come back from a dinner with his ex is simply funny and entertaining. Then, two chapters later, Maroh describes the effect a terminal illness has on a relationship. It communicates both the monotony and the sacredness of our everyday lives and loves. I feel like a lot of romances or books on love tend to veer toward one or the other, so having a space where love was portrayed as both casual and revered was refreshing.

In their foreword, Maroh writes “The image of the heterosexual, monogamous, white, handsome couple, with their toothpaste smiles for all eternity, stands in the collective unconscious as the ideal portrait of love. But where are the other realities? And where is mine?” This book is incredibly important to me as a younger queer person. Mainstream media doesn’t have very nuanced depictions of both casual and serious queer love, and I haven’t gotten to a point in my life where I am having a lot of those experiences myself.

This is actually my second or third time reading this book. I first read it when I was about 17, and now, at 19, different chapters resonate with me more. When I was younger, it gave me hope for my future. Now, it’s fulfilling to recognize a few of my own varied experiences within the pages.

I tend to give away books pretty soon after I finish them, but this one has a permanent place on my shelf. It doesn’t even get loaned out. Body Music is a dynamic graphic novel with great representation and high re-read value, and it is an experience I recommend to everyone.

Danielle Ferriola reviews Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh


Goosebumps formed on my skin the moment I began reading Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh. Aesthetically pleasing and beautifully written, Maroh immediately captured my attention and my heart. The story begins with Emma reading diary entries written by her love, Clementine. Although Clementine has passed, her memories are very much alive. Clementine was 16 years old when her life had changed. On one particular day, headed to a date with a boy from school, she caught sight of a young woman with blue hair. This image remained vivid in her mind for many days to come.

Clementine’s heart raced every time she saw something blue, with anxious hope she might see this woman again. Never having experienced such strong feelings for women, Clementine did not know what was happening to her. As a result, she struggled with accepting herself for a considerable time. Her parents referred to homosexuality as wrong which likely contributed to Clementine’s conflicted view of herself. Suppressing one’s true nature does not make the situation go away; quite often denial leads to negative feelings and further upset. This story is relatable to anyone who has had a difficult time coming to terms with who they are –unfortunately, we live in a society that is very heteronormative and many parents are not appreciative of their children expressing non-heterosexual tendencies. Even more so, fellow students are not always open to diverse sexual identities, especially in middle and high school settings. Friends Clementine thought she could count on did not want to associate with her anymore once they had suspicion she was a lesbian.

As Clementine felt more comfortable with her newfound self, her life became full of color. Her path crossed with the mysterious woman with blue hair and she became excited about the world again. As it turns out, Emma would play a very significant role in Clementine’s life. As the title so mentions, blue really does become the warmest color for Clementine. It is amazing how we as readers can feel such empathy in response to Clementine’s feelings –almost as if we were a part of the story, experiencing love for the first time with her. Blue is the Warmest Color is a must-have for any personal library as the graphic novel can easily be appreciated in one sitting and feel just as moving each time it is read.

I watched Blue is the Warmest Color a few months ago, very excited that a foreign lesbian-protagonist centered film hit mainstream media. After finishing the movie, I discovered that the story was inspired by the graphic novel, which was originally printed in 2010 in French. Thrilled that Maroh has since published an English version of Blue is the Warmest Color; I had made it my mission to find the book. Kept by my bedside for convenient reading, Blue is the Warmest Color has become my favorite graphic novel.

Danika reviews Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh


Honestly, after Casey’s review of this title, I feel like my whole review could just be “I agree!” But that would be a bit of a cheat. Besides, I did read the English translation, so we do have that difference.

Blue Is the Warmest Color is a graphic novel structured so that Emma is reading her recently deceased girlfriend’s high school diaries, which then show us flashbacks, which make up most of the narrative. It is set in 90s France, and most of the art is in black, white, and grey, like watercolours, but with occasional splashes of colour. The artwork is definitely the best part of this collection (you can see panels in Casey’s reviews). I especially appreciated how Maroh draws faces, which portray subtle expressions. Although the text is translated, there is also some untranslated French in the background, like on banners in the panels, and things like sound effects. Obviously, if you are able to read French, I’m sure the original publication is the best way to read this book.

This is both a sexy and angsty book. Clementine sees Emma on a crowded street and passing and begins dreaming about her. Emma is a mysterious and captivating figure, her blue hair the only spot of colour in the panel. I could definitely see where Clem was coming from in her attraction to this anonymous figure with the sly smile. Emma grows into a more full character by the end of the book, but this might have been my favourite part, with the thrill of potential. There is more angst and sexiness, though, including beautifully drawn sex scenes, and all the drama of coming out. We know that Clementine is dead from the first few pages, and yet the narrative manages to only up the melodrama. Everything seems to be as difficult and painful as possible, including a few moments that seemed implausible. [spoilers, highlight to read] Really? You’re staying over at your closeted girlfriend’s house and you go downstairs (in the night) naked? I don’t care if you think everyone is asleep, that seems pretty far-fetched. And the circumstances of her death seemed more dramatic than necessary. [end spoilers]

Really, I felt very similarly to Casey on this book. The artwork is so beautiful, and with the hype around the movie version winning the Palme d’Or, I wouldn’t try to dissuade anyone from picking this one up, but do be prepared for some over-the-top melodrama.

Casey reviews Le Bleu est un Couleur Chaude (Blue is the Warmest Colour) by Julie Maroh


I had admittedly never heard of French author and graphic artist Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, Le Bleu est un Couleur Chaude (it’s being translated as Blue is the Warmest Colour, although the title more literally says “blue is a warm colour”) until I read about the film version’s win of the Palme D’Or—the top prize—at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and the controversy surrounding one apparently ten minute long sex scene.  I became even more interested when I read that Maroh had some serious problems with the film adaptation and—remember this is translated from the original French—called the sex scenes “a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, turned into porn, and which made [her] feel very ill at ease.”   She ultimately concludes that “as a feminist and lesbian spectator, [she] can not endorse the direction Kechiche [the director] took on these matters.”  You can see the original French blog post here and an English translation (not the greatest) here.

Since the movie hasn’t been released in North America yet (it’s set to be out this fall), I decided I had to read the book.  I’ve been wanting to brush up on my French anyways, and I thought a graphic novel with plenty of lesbian sex (or so I assumed) would be a great way to start.  I was also excited about this novel because the English translation, which has just been released, is being published by one of my favourite presses, Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press.  Arsenal publishes a host of great queer writers, including Ivan E Coyote, Amber Dawn, and S. Bear Bergman.  So, with the occasional help of a dictionary and a Francophone friend (thanks Yayuk!), I read the original French version.  What did I think?  I liked it.  But I didn’t love it.

Let me tell you why.  The drawings are definitely the novel’s strength—Maroh is certainly a talented visual artist and manages to convey complexity and emotional turmoil in what are mostly black/brown and white shades.  The occasional splash of blue—the hair colour of the main character’s love interest—is a shock, as it should be.  What might also be shocking to some readers are some pretty, shall we say, graphic sex scenes.  They’re well done, to be sure and hot and authentic and pretty much everything you could ask for.  This page, in particular:

In fact, I think the drawings have a subtlety and power that the language often doesn’t; or rather, the plot as it is drawn through words.  This is a teenage coming out story; it’s also a love story that follows the two women into their later lives, but a large part of the novel deals with Clémentine figuring out that she’s a lesbian and dealing with that revelation.  And deal with it does she have to.  Le Bleu manages not to miss a single coming-out trope and opportunity for drama: intense initial denial, virulent explicitly homophobic friends who drop her as soon as they find out Clém is gay, self-loathing, projection of internalized homophobia onto your lover, and, finally, parental rejection.  Let me make it plain:  this is a dramatic book.  I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of these issues, but it just seems a bit like—did Maroh really have to make it that bad for her in order to garner support from hetero folks?  Really?  Clém has one queer friend, it’s true, a gay guy who acts as a kind of mentor.  Other than that, she’s on her own.

A lot of teenagers are going to love this book, I’m guessing, because it really does do teenage melodrama well.  It kind of makes me glad I didn’t come out until a little later.  To be fair to the book, it takes place in France in the 90s, and this is clearly a very different environment compared to both France today (although, the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage there does speak volumes) and North America.  Maybe I don’t know enough about the political and social climate of France to be able to fairly judge how out of proportion the homophobia is in the book.  All I know is, I’d ideally like to read a different story, where the explicit, overwhelming homophobic obstacles to Clém’s happiness don’t keep appearing like moles out of molehills (it’s like that whack-a-mole video game—as soon as you get rid of one, another one pops up for you to squash).

It’s not just coming out and being queer that provide constant hurdles: Clémentine and her blue-haired lover, Emma, have quite the tumultuous, sensational relationship.  Of course, the older woman Emma—she’s in university while Clém is still in high school—is already in a relationship when they meet.  Drama ensues.  They’re together, but Emma doesn’t want to break up with her partner, who introduced her to the queer scene and is a bit of a stereotypical scary territorial butch (I’m giving Maroh the benefit of the doubt here, but it is unfortunate that this is the only representation of a masculine woman).  There are stupid misunderstandings that take way too long to clear up and the whole storming out instead of finishing the conversation schtick happens fairly often.  There is never a dull moment once Emma and Clém are together; I actually preferred the slower pace of the novel before they get together.  The final piece of melodrama, of course, —if you prefer no spoilers skip to the next paragraph— is that Clémentine dies young, tragically, after Emma kicks her out when Clém confesses to having cheated on her.  This is not really a spoiler, actually, since you know Clém has died from the beginning of the novel, which starts after her death and then goes back to tell the story of how everything came to this final depressing scene.

Other reviews I’ve read emphasize the emotional impact of the novel, and the whole unfairness of the situation and the how awful it is.  I mean, it was sad, but by the end mostly I just felt like: oh brother, well, that’s the icing on the cake of the rest of the drama.  I just couldn’t make myself feel quite so emotionally involved.  This might be a language barrier.  But I don’t think so.  Actually, I think the melodrama and cheese factor must be pretty high for me to be able to sense it so strongly in a second language.  Despite what I’ve said, I would still recommend this book, for two reasons: one) the art is really exquisite and tells a beautiful and sexy story all by itself; two) I think the fact that the book takes place in 1990s France is really a context, as an Anglophone Canadian who was ten in 1995, I can’t understand—maybe it’s not my place to judge the book on certain standards too far removed from the novel’s context.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you though: Le Bleu est un Couleur Chaude is the most melodramatic thing I’ve ever read.  If you become more emotionally involved than I did, be prepared to cry.  And cry some more.