Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Ordinary Victories, Vol. 2: Trivial Quantities by Manu Larcenet

I want this book to be thinly veiled autobiography - I think it is, but I even more want it to be - largely because there's an unflattering portrait of an older creative man, "Farrell," and I like to imagine Larcenet transmuting someone he knows and dislikes into fiction.

Perhaps I should back up slightly. Trivial Quantities is the second of four "Ordinary Victories" albums, all written and drawn by Manu Larcenet almost twenty years ago - Trivial was published in French in 2004, and this Europe Comics edition, translated by Joe Johnson, is from 2015. The main character is Marco Louis, a photojournalist with an anxiety disorder, who is trying to switch from doing what sounds like mostly war photography to gallery work, and at the same time just started up a new relationship with a woman, Emilie. The first book was just Ordinary Victories.

The plots are loose and discursive, flowing through Marco's life and covering several months of time. The central spine of Trivial is a major gallery show Marco is part of - so is Farrell, who is famous and does amazing, inspiring work and is also a completely horrible human being - but there are lots of other threads and themes, from Marco's relationship with his brother and with their Alzheimer's-afflicted father, Emilie's dissatisfaction with living in Marco's old bachelor pad, and the new photography work he's doing, of the workers in a shipyard, his father's old colleagues.

Those are the obvious ones: Larcenet has quieter, more buried themes as well. The rise of the right-wing, and more generally how "ordinary" people are treated by the world, and how they fight back. Artistic sensibility, and the question of whether horrible people can do good things, make great art. The question of forgiveness: are there things in a person's past that are just completely unforgiveable, and where is the line for those things?

Larcenet doesn't preach, and doesn't even present this all, really, from Marco's point of view. Marco is central, but it's a big, complex world, and he's wandering through parts of it, making sense of what he can. He's a damaged person himself, though the reader can forget that for long stretches. Larcenet tells this story quietly, without fussy or obvious framing, in an illustrative, somewhat cluttered style with lots of details and pools of black ink on every page.

This is not a series that will tell you what to think about it, or even "what it's about" in any programmatic way. It's the story of one creative life - or a particular time in that life - and I think it's transmuted from a similar time in Larcenet's own life, which makes the distance and even-handedness even more impressive here. And, again, I really want to know who "Farrell" really is, and how Larcenet knew him. But I probably never will.

No comments:

Post a Comment