Photo courtesy of: ccplonline.org
Original title: Le bleu est une couleur chaude
English title: Blue is the Warmest Color
Author/Illustrator: Julie Maroh
Translator: Ivanka Hahnenberger
Genre: Graphic Novel, Romance, LGBTQ.
156pp. ISBN: 9781551525143
English version published by Arsenal Pulp Press, Canada in 2013. $19.95 (US and Canada)
Original French version published by Glénat Editions, Belgium in 2010. 17.50€
Available in print and eBook.
Why I read it
I read about the film version of the graphic novel when the film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the depiction of lesbian sex in the film, which paid absolutely no attention to the intensity of emotion between the leading ladies. I’d also read about the author’s reaction to the film. She was less than pleased. I watched the film in the fall of 2014, developed some thoughts, and decided that I needed to read the source material.
Clementine begins to question her sexuality when she encounters a beautiful girl with blue hair.
Clementine is a high school junior doing the things high school juniors do when she sees a girl with blue hair while out on a date with a guy. She begins to dream about the blue-haired girl, dreams that she thinks are unnatural. After a disastrous relationship with the guy, Clem’s friend Valentin takes her out to the neighborhood gay bar. Clem wanders on her own to a nearby lesbian bar where she meets, officially, the girl with blue hair, Emma. The rest of the novel explores the relationship between Clementine and Emma against the backdrop of mid-90’s to early 00’s France.
This story is framed by the present lives of Clem and Emma. Clem, in the hospital, has bequeathed her diaries and journals to Emma. Emma reads them, gaining more insight into the woman she loved, and who loved her, for fifteen years.
Here’s what I think
The very first thing I had to tell myself, and continue to remind myself of throughout my reading of Blue is the Warmest Color, was that the film and the graphic novel are separate entities. Just because the film is based on the novel does not mean that the film will be a complete adaptation. There are scenes in the graphic novel that are not in the film and vice versa. With that in mind, I should have read the graphic novel first, because though I kept telling myself to stop comparing it to the film, I couldn’t do it. I think watching the film first ruined my enjoyment of the graphic novel.
I really wanted to like the graphic novel, because I loved the film. One of the reasons, I think, that tainted my enjoyment of the graphic novel was the translations. I read an English translation of a French title. There was something about the translations that seemed stilted, as though the emotion behind the original French words were not coming through in English. This could be a character flaw. It could be that Clementine was unsure of what she was saying or wanted to say, which made the words feel clumsy.
Another reason I think I didn’t like it was the intensity of emotion. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what I was getting into when I picked it up, but something about it just didn’t hit right for me. In an attempt to clarify this “something” for myself, I went back to the scenes of high intensity. It’s not there. I expected to feel the pain and anguish of being disowned, infidelity, being thrown out. I didn’t.The artwork in these scenes, and indeed throughout the graphic novel, is wonderful. I should have felt it on the merits of the story alone, but all I heard, all I saw, were the equivalent scenes from the film.
So of all these things I didn’t like about the graphic novel, was there anything I did like? Of course.
The emotion of the final scene of the novel, conveyed through Clem’s words and illustrations of Emma walking on the beach, hit all the right notes. It is bittersweet, but there is a resolution to the story of Clem and Emma.
The relationship between Clem and Valentin. Valentin, Clem’s gay friend from high school, is supportive, encouraging, and maybe a little in love with Clem. He holds her when she cries, lets her crash on his couch, is her confidante.
The artwork, like I said, is great. I’m still trying to decide if there is any significance to the color scheme of the past versus the color scheme of the present, beyond denoting one from the other.
Read the source material before seeing the film when appropriate.
4Q–Better than most, without serious defects.
3P–They made a movie about it, so I need to read it.
Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus
Juicy Mother edited by Jennifer Camper
Melancholy, Romantic, Bittersweet
Book Talk Notes
A chance encounter on the street. pp 12-13.
Dreams become unsettling. pp 17-18.
Reality becomes unbearable. pp 21-22
Until one night at the bar changes everything. pp 46-51
Book Discussion questions
1. What do you make of the artistic decision to use the colors black/gray/white with blue highlights for the past and full color illustrations for the present?
2. Blue comes to mean so much to Clementine. What does the color blue mean to you? Why.
3. What does the phrase “the personal is political” mean to you? How does the phrase fit into Blue is the Warmest Color?
4. Discuss some comparisons between the graphic novel and the film version.
Clues to the Future
Graphic novel, blue hair, lesbians, french novel, Adele, Clementine, Emma, angry dad, graphic sex
Awards and Lists
Rainbow Book List 2014, American Library Association, Social Responsibility Roundtable and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Roundtable
United States Board on Books for Young People-Outstanding International Books-Grades 9-12 2014
Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews
Author website in French: www.juliemaroh.com
Video Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZbuy3aDFH0 It is in French, but there are captions that translate.
Interview with AfterEllen.com: http://www.afterellen.com/movies/200462-julie-maroh-on-writing-blue-is-the-warmest-color
Interview with Rachel Kramer Bussell at Salon.com: http://www.salon.com/2013/09/21/blue_is_the_warmest_color_author_im_a_feminist_but_it_doesnt_make_me_an_activist/