I got this at the library because I am always on the hunt for good graphic novels, and it said THE BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL OF ALL TIME EVER or something like that on the front. I believed this because I’m easily taken in by the printed word. Fortunately for me, this may actually be one of the best graphic novels of all time ever. I loved it. I really, really loved it. It’s translated – I didn’t even care! Hooray for Joe Johnson, the stalwart translator! Mr. Johnson, you have done an excellent job in translating, and thanks for that, because although I can sort of read French, it is easier and nicer to read English, and if this book only existed in French, the library would most likely not have had it.
Ordinary Victories is all about a professional photographer called Marco. He has a cat, a brother, and a panic disorder. He acquires a veterinarian girlfriend called Emily, and tries to balance out what he wants for his life and what he knows she wants. His father has Alzheimer’s, but refuses treatment. He befriends a strange old man who fishes near his home, and discovers some dark things in the old man’s past. He tries to do a triumphal return to photography that doesn’t entail his photographing “exotic corpses”, which is what he’s known for.
The book’s French title – Le combat ordinaire – captures it perfectly – it’s about the things you struggle with every day, and hey, can I just say, what a wonderful depiction of panic attacks. The panels turn all red, and all Marco can do is gasp “H! H! H!” Emily, the girlfriend, is adorable and endearing without being nauseating or a pushover at all. The relationships between Marco and his brother (who he calls George, as a joke – we never find out his real name), and his parents, are so genuine and lovely.
Here’s where I cried (emotional spoilers – click on it to make it bigger):
An argument might be made that the book touches on too many issues without resolving them, but because the book is about Marco and his struggles to navigate the world, it doesn’t seem unfocused for many of these things to remain a bit fuzzy and uncertain. It’s just the things you encounter, and try to deal with, in your life – romantic difficulties, people not being who you want them to be, politics not going the way you want them to go. There’s this wonderful scene towards the end where Marco talks to a longtime friend who has chosen to vote for the far right, despite its platform of intolerance. Marco is full of certainty that he is right and his friend is wrong, and the question is, on a personal level, so much more complex than that. Gorgeous, gorgeous. Plus, see above re: where I cried.
What a wonderful book. Please read it so we can talk about how great it is!