Exquisite Corpse, French superstar Pénélope Bagieu’s debut English-language graphic novel about life, love, and legacy, is perfect for women in their 20s, a demographic often overlooked by comic publishers.
Bagieu is a woman of many talents: illustrator, graphic novelist, and one Paris’s most popular blogger. Her website, My Life is Completely Fascinating (Ma vie est tout à fait fascinante), began in 2007 as a place to share daily illustrated diary entries. Bagieu’s most famous comic series, Joséphine—oft described as a French Bridget Jones—followed shortly after in 2008, with demand leading to a further two volumes.
Cadavre exquis came next in 2010, her first graphic novel-length story, and won her even greater critical success. Bagieu has since been made Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters in France.
Exquisite Corpse focuses on the life of Zoe, a carefree woman in a dead-end job and relationship who starts to realize her frustrations as colleagues enjoy greater ambitions. After spying a man watching her from his apartment window, she blusters her way inside his apartment to use the bathroom. He turns out to be Thomas Rocher, a world-famous author she has completely failed to recognize—and he's enchanted by that fact.
The tension between Rocher's glamorous Parisian literacy scene and Zoe's existence as a directionless but hard-working twenty-something who has literally never stepped foot in a bookstore is cleverly played—two well-known realities colliding with no elitist judgement placed upon either.
As Zoe is drawn into an unexpected conspiracy, the book maintains a light and airy tone, while never stooping to belittle Zoe’s comparative lack of intellectual weight—her ability to maintain her sense of self is in fact a tremendous strength. The hidden depths within the cast subtly underpins the proceedings, making Exquisite Corpse both a joy to read and a story that packs one hell of a memorable punch.
Zoe is an absolute scene-stealer, her oversized eyes giving her facial expressions precedence over everyone else. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and gives frequent side-eye to the bizarre happenings around her.
For great summer fiction to read out in the garden or while enjoying un café, look no further.
Exquisite Corpse (9781626720824) comes out on May 5th from First Second.