Limited Edition is a graphic novel by French artist and writer Aude Picault. Although Picault's work is well-known in France, she has yet to achieve tLimited Edition is a graphic novel by French artist and writer Aude Picault. Although Picault's work is well-known in France, she has yet to achieve the recognition in English speaking countries that she deserves (something that this translation of one of her most recent works will hopefully begin to redress).
Picault's graphic style is simple, closest to that commonly seen in newspaper comic strips. Limited Edition also employs a very limited colour palette - primarily yellow, of various shades, with the occasional judicious use of blue or pink. This stripped-back approach leaves nowhere for an artist to hide, but Picault is such a master of her craft that the minimalism simply serves to showcase her wonderful skills for characterisation, humour and composition. There are no generic faces in Limited Edition; even characters whose appearance is limited to a single page or panel are distinct individuals, whilst those with recurring appearances are clearly differentiated and consistently depicted. Expression and posture are beautifully observed and often humorously conveyed. Visually, the work is a deceptively simple joy.
In terms of story, Limited Edition covers a few years in the life of Claire, a neonatal nurse in her thirties living in France, disappointed in love and feeling increasing social pressure to find the right man and settle down. As such, it is not a tale of high drama - there are no murders, family scandals or political intrigues - but a keenly observed account of typical, everyday concerns: relationships, friendships, family, work. These are all presented in realistic frankness (sex and nudity feature relatively frequently (both visually and in conversation), but are depicted honestly and in context, often humorously, not salaciously or gratuitously). However, these common life experiences are not taken at face value, but scrutinised through a distinctly feminist lens. Unless there should be any doubt as to this, the book also contains a 'short bibliography' where readers are directed on to the works of Virginia Woolf, Germaine Greer and a host of other feminist authors. In fact, the book is quite systematic in its coverage of feminist topics: the beauty myth, the stereotypes of mother and wife, the traditional expectations of monogamy, differing attitudes to raising male and female children, among others. As interesting and important as these issues are, this didacticism might be annoying in a less talented author, but Picault skilfully and subtly weaves these concerns through Claire's story in a way that adds and not detracts from it. The characters and situations are not simply a vehicle for the issues, but are fully realised things that the issues raised cast in a new light.
Regarding the edition itself (originally published by Dargaud), I found no issues with the translation, which has been skilfully rendered into colloquial English. I do, however, wonder about the title: Limited Edition translates Idéal Standard, which - although I'm not a French speaker - would seem to lose something (that Claire is faced with a socially imposed 'ideal standard' that she must live up to). But perhaps the publishers have their reasons. Picault's original hand-written text is neatly replaced with a similar, handwriting font, and in all other respects the book is beautifully put together (that said, I can only comment on the digital (PDF) copy that I was given for review). The translated edition doesn't yet seem to be available through Amazon, but only as a digital edition through Comixology.
In summary, Limited Edition is a beautiful, visually delightful, funny - yet serious - take on the sort of pressures faced by the average contemporary Western woman. As such, while its subject matter might traditionally attract more female readers than male, I would hope that it can be enjoyed and appreciated by both sexes, and help Picault to gain the wider English-speaking readership she so richly deserves.
[This review was based on a complimentary PDF edition supplied by the publisher via Net Galley]...more
"Machiavellian" has now entered the language as a synonym for "deceitful", "conniving", or just plain "[Reviewed as part of The Illustrated Book Club]
"Machiavellian" has now entered the language as a synonym for "deceitful", "conniving", or just plain "evil". Ming the Merciless was Machiavellian, as was Doctor Smith in Lost in Space (why those dated examples sprung to mind, I've no idea...), and the guy in Despicable Me, whatever his name is (good, more topical reference - we're back on track!). The point is, he's become a stereotype of villainy, a cultural trope. But the real Machiavelli seems a thoughtful, cultured individual, well-read, well-versed in history and the classics, and concerned only that if someone is to assume absolute rule, then they should do it right.
What makes - made? - the book controversial is its honesty. As philosopher (not painter) Francis Bacon put it, Machiavelli writes of "what men do, and not what they ought to do". In other words, he is a student of human nature, and being also a cynic, human nature doesn't come out too well. I am reminded of the worldview of Game of Thrones when he says, "men will always do badly to you unless they are forced to be virtuous" (I hate Game of Thrones). And so, he argues, rulers should not try to be virtuous - all who have done so have come to naive and sticky ends - but merely to appear to have those virtues. But hold on: isn't there a Bible quote along those lines? Matthew 10:6: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." Well, Machiavelli prefers two different animals: namely, the lion and the fox, for their bravery and cunning respectively, but maybe there is a certain parallel attitude here: innocence doesn't always cut it, even when your ends are good - and, arguably, Machiavelli's are. He wants glory for the state, for Florence, Italy and its people, but he also wants prosperity and peace. He scorns the example of Agathocles, who, despite achieving and maintaining absolute rule, was, by all accounts, not a nice guy. As M puts it, despite his success as a ruler, "his brutal cruelty and inhumanity, his countless crimes, forbid his being honoured among eminent men."
So, Machiavelli is not your straight forward might-is-right, Nietzschean supervillain (and neither, in fact, was Nietzsche). He is simply someone who believes that the ends justify the means, and the ends are traditionally good ones. That said, the means are sometimes ghastly: he condones betrayal and trickery, pre-emptive war, wiping out the families of one's enemies, and other heinous actions deemed political necessities. It is 'realpolitik' in its most open and honest form. However, in among this is a subtle, almost 'spiritual' approach to state craft - it is perhaps not the precise word I'm looking for, but at a number of points (which I wish I'd made note of, now), I found myself thinking, "This is just like Sun Tzu!" (of Art of War fame): advice on seizing the moment, being flexible, knowing when to attack or not, when the right time is to use repression and violence and punishment (and when it's simply too late), and other things that bear no little resemblance to a Taoist treatise on following The Way (a keen knowledge of which, it's no secret, can serve both spiritual and martial applications). For Machiavelli then, as perhaps for Sun Tzu, the 'way' of good government should not be entangled with moral concerns. For modern readers, much as we would like to avoid this hugely depressing and repugnant conclusion, it seems based on a view of human nature that is close to ours. Isn't that what we think of people? That they're basically selfish, greedy, untrustworthy? I think it's that which is most challenging about the book - that is, the challenge to reach a different conclusion, or else to abandon that shared, Game-of-Thrones premise....more
This has been on my to-read list for many years. Apart from the title, whi[Reviewed as part of The Illustrated Book Club. Contains some mild spoilers]
This has been on my to-read list for many years. Apart from the title, which is intriguing enough, the author himself seems equally intriguing. A highly-educated and prodigious classical scholar - he was fluent in Greek at 13 - and on chummy terms with the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge, De Quincey's confession promises to be of a higher calibre than your run-of-the-mill addiction story - and it is. He writes beautifully, if a little long-winded and pompous at times, and his general attitude to drugs and addiction seems enlightened. He dismisses contemporary medical opinion as prejudiced and uninformed. Opium itself, he argues, is not an intoxicant (like alcohol), does not promote lethargy, but rather lifts the spirits, enriches the imagination and clarifies the intellect. Which is fine, as Hamlet might say, were it not that it gave bad dreams. And, of course, it is highly addictive. So, night (and day) terrors, gut wrenching withdrawal symptoms, but otherwise to be recommended - sort of. Which I guess colours his recommendation somewhat.
The review here is of the first (1822) edition, which is the only one I could find for Kindle. It's shorter by two thirds than the second (1856) edition, and (somewhat) less long-winded. However, it does lack some of the detail of the latter - such as facts about De Quincey's family life (the 1st ed. doesn't mention that he had siblings, that I can recall), and goes further to explaining how he ended up where he was. That said, it does also go on at some unnecessary length on abstract topics that aren't really as engaging as De Quincey probably thought they were (well, what I've read of it, anyway...).
Overall, worth reading the first edition, and there are some really beautiful passages of description and entertaining monologues....more
Frankenstein is rightly considered one of the earliest works of science fiction. And like the best scie[Reviewed as part of The Illustrated Book Club]
Frankenstein is rightly considered one of the earliest works of science fiction. And like the best science fiction, it is not primarily concerned with whether something is possible (the how-to of so-called hard sci-fi), but what it would mean for human beings if it were possible. Many university bookshelves bow with the weight of those arguing over what Frankenstein really means - feminist, psychoanalytical, marxist/anti-capitalist - and those themes are definitely there, to whatever extent. However, it is a book that is rich enough to allow for such a wide range of interpretations because, fundamentally, it is a story told in dreamlike symbols. And like all dreams, they can mean what you want them to. This I think is why it has endured so long.
Despite its dreamlike quality, the narrative itself is at pains to be 'realistic' - through journals and letters and other forms of literary device (a method - if I remember rightly - that it shares with Stoker's Dracula and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe). This is cleverly and skilfully done, for the most part. However, whilst there is certainly plenty of action and incident, this form of narrative doesn't really lend itself to thriller-like suspense, but more of a sort of meditative distance, allowing us to analyse the psychology and motives of the characters. There are also points at which the attempts at realism seem strained or dated: for example, the monster's own account of how he comes to learn language is detailed but (speaking as a philosopher) implausible. So, it would almost have been better to leave this account out, you might think - but then, remember, this is not hard sci-fi or true realism; the main point is to allow the monster to speak. Unlike the dumb, non-rational things that science exploits and experiments on - Descartes's clockwork cats and dogs - the monster has a voice. Does it really matter how he got it? Don't let the journals and letters fool you. This is a dream, after all, and all attempts to make sense of it are mere rational confabulations of a left-brain all at sea (or at least, in a villa overlooking a lake...)....more
This is Dickens' second novel, first published in serial form over 2 years. Later Dickens, from the bit[Reviewed as part of The Illustrated Book Club]
This is Dickens' second novel, first published in serial form over 2 years. Later Dickens, from the bits I've read, may come across as more polished and sophisticated, but all the typical ingredients are here: the genius for characterisation, the biting social satire, and - unfortunately - the sometimes mawkish sentimentality that he seems to have shared with his fellow Victorians (I'm reminded of Oscar Wilde's typically ruthless observation that “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing”).
Some of the social observation and banter now seem either dated or impenetrable to a modern reader (q.v. the Dodger, Fagin and Master Bates (!)), but I'm sure they were spot on for a contemporary one. Taken as social commentary, the heartlessness of the parish workhouse system is laid bare mercilessly: the pompous hypocrisy of Mr Bumble the Beadle and the parish board members; the mercenary Mrs Corney, starving her charges into an early grave. I doubt there was much exaggeration needed on Dickens' part, and any sentimentality is far outweighed by such keen eyed dissection of human faults and prejudices embedded in the system. It's great stuff.
The other downside concerns the charge of anti-semitism. Dickens, it seems, was no anti-semite - or at least he vehemently denied it, merely arguing that it was a common fact of the street that most criminal's of Fagin's class were Jews. However, Fagin is not the only Jewish character in the novel, and it seems fair to say that Dickens does little to dispel harmful racist stereotypes, and much (if inadvertently) to promote them. But then maybe the fact that Fagin remains one of his most popular and well-known characters - a lovable and charming rogue - is something that should argue in his favour (though possibly this is more due to Ron Moody's portrayal than his depiction in the novel). Let readers make up their own mind....more