Thursday, June 09, 2022

Lydie by Zidrou and Jordi Lafebre

Where are we? "Mustachioed Baby Court," a small cul-de-sac notable for a defaced billboard that is a quirky local point of pride. Where is that? France, definitely. More clearly than that,'s in the residential area of some city. That's all we need to know.

When are we?  A tombstone tells us this is 1932 - time will move forward from there, but it will all seem quietly interwar, entirely on this street and away from anything of the wider world.

And what kind of story is this? It's not far from magical realism, actually. A small community, with quirky personalities and rituals, narrated by a religious statue, about something impossible that the community believed in enough to make it something like real.

Lydie is a graphic novel, a bande dessinee. Written by Zidrou, drawn by Jordi Lafebre. Published in French in 2012; translated into English for this edition in 2018. Available only digitally, as far as I can tell.

Camille is a young woman, in childbirth as the story begins. She's mentally slow, the locals say, and no one is quite sure how she got pregnant or who the father is; the assumption is that someone took advantage of her. She's been raised by her father, Augustin, after her mother died delivering her. All of the locals watch out for her, more or less - they're not all nice people, or always helpful people, but she's one of them, and they take care of their own.

Lydie is Camille's baby. Lydie did not survive. This is the story of how Lydie grew up, on Mustachioed Baby Court.

Camille insists that Lydie "came back," fussing over an empty cradle a few days after the funeral. And the whole community...humors her, for the next twenty years or so. Fussing over the imaginary baby, making a seat for her in classrooms, talking as if she's there all of the time.

Lydie, of course, is not real. She's the hallucination, or pretense, of a grieving mother. But Lydie is startlingly consistent - her schoolmates all independently draw her the same way, everyone knows what she likes, and so on. She's very much like a specific person, even if she's invisible and not actually in existence.

Zidrou's people and narrator talk almost like fables, to keep that magical realist feeling: a little broader than normal, a little more generalized. And Lafebre draws it all in a slightly cartoony style, faces a little more rounded and exaggerated than real life - both of them are making it clear this is A Story, and a particular kind of story at that.

And is Lydie real? Well, the last couple of pages will make a case in one direction: it's up to the reader to decide. But, then, it's always up to the reader to decide, no matter what the book or the question.

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