Review: The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch and Ordinary Victories Part Deux

See me starting challenges all over the place?  It’s a new year and I am on the ball.

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch, Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli

I didn’t start out my Graphic Novels Challenge reading with quite the satisfactory bang that I was hoping for (probably because I didn’t start by doing the January mini-challenge but OH that is all about to change).  The Facts, etc., etc., disappointed me.  Illustrated by Michael Zulli, this graphic novel tells the tale of a strange night out, with a strange woman whose real name wasn’t Miss Finch.  The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch is a good title, if you’re writing that sort of story, edged with primness rather than ferality.  I thought maybe Gaiman was intending to play up the contrast? But it didn’t really work.

Essentially (spoilers for the whole!), Miss Finch likes sabre-toothed tigers; she goes out with the narrator and his friends; they all see a very strange circus; and she gets transported back in time to live with (and boss around) sabre-toothed tigers.  And then everyone goes home and thinks about how strange it all was.  As a short story, this is already rather thinly plotted.  Put it into comic book form and publish it as a hardback, it just (of course) makes this problem more noticeable.  Then of course, the whole thing is framed by the narrator’s remembering it, and it hardly seems worth remembering.

Not that – well, I mean, obviously if that happened in real life, you’d remember it and talk about it a lot.  It’s not every day that you go out with a woman and she gets zapped back in time and prevents sabre-toothed tigers from eating you all up, and then trots back into prehistoric times to hang out there forever.  But that’s all that happens.  The story is more about the setting, than the plot, and although Michael Zulli is a good illustrator and makes a very beautiful setting, that doesn’t make up for how essentially dull it is.  Nothing happens to the narrator at all.  You are never in fear of their lives or anything.  I just – I know that Neil Gaiman can do creepy stories, and the reason I know that is that I’ve read Coraline.  I wanted The Facts – that title is ridiculously long – I wanted the book to be creepy, and it was dull instead.  Bah.  Plus, I’ve read this Gaiman story before, with the theatre show.  Several times.  Better versions.

Ordinary Victories, Manu Larcenet

Onward to Ordinary Victories: What Is Precious, which I got for Christmas from my lovely mum and dad (along with the original Ordinary Victories, which I reread and found to be as wonderful as I had initially thought it was).  I shall have spoilers in this review, for the first volume as well as the second.  The protagonist’s father has just committed suicide (this happened towards the end of Ordinary Victories), and he, his brother, and his mother are all struggling to come to terms with that.  Marc’s girlfriend Emily is longing for a child, and Marc himself is still not sure of his place in the world – as a son or a potential father or an artist.  Which is to say, many of the same elements that I so loved in Ordinary Victories were present in What Is Precious, especially the juxtaposition of very strong emotions with the tiny details of everyday life.

I didn’t like it quite as much as the first volume, though, and I’m not sure why.  Maybe because I had expectations going into the second volume that weren’t present for the first.  Marc and Emily’s having a kid shifted the tone of the book.  I loved how Ordinary Victories was able to contain a lot of important, difficult issues, without giving the impression that it was Addressing and Attempting to Resolve them.  Once the kid shows up in What Is Precious, though, I lose all patience for the characters’ indecision and uncertainty.  That sounds very intolerant of me.  Another possibility is that I was cranky after reading Slaughterhouse Five.  I should have read The Ask and the Answer next, as a palate cleanser, and proceeded to What Is Precious subsequently.

Have you read either of these?  Let me know and I’ll put a link!

Ordinary Victories, Manu Larcenet

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!