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Friday, December 11, 2015

6 Heart Review: Exquisite Corpse by Pénélope Bagieu

Exquisite Corpse
Pénélope Bagieu, translated by Alexis Siegel

Page Count: 124

Release Date: May 5th 2015 (Hardcover)
Publisher: First Second Books (MacMillan)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, First Second!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Zoe isn't exactly the intellectual type, which is why she doesn't recognize world-famous author Thomas Rocher when she stumbles into his apartment... and into his life.

It's also why she doesn't know that Rocher is supposed to be dead. Turns out, Rocher faked his death years ago to escape his critics, and has been making a killing releasing his new work as "lost manuscripts," in cahoots with his editor/ex-wife Agathe. Neither of them would have invited a crass party girl like Zoe into their literary conspiracy of two, but now that she's there anyway...

Zoe doesn't know Balzac from Batman, but she's going to have to wise up fast... because she's sitting on the literary scandal of the century!
Dying to be an author...

Graphic novels are always a pleasure to read, considering how rare a format they are in adult literature. Bagieu's debut is short and sweet, its cartoony, colorful illustrations being the biggest standout—everything is fashionable, yet minimalistic... think Lancôme ads (but more corrupt).

Zoe is a self-proclaimed non-intellectual, working various part-time jobs to make ends meet and totally reveling in, and simultaneously jaded with the bachelorette life. When she unintentionally stumbles into the apartment of Thomas Rocher, her unschooled lifestyle provides her no way of knowing he's the most critically acclaimed author of the 21st century. And that he "died" years ago, but is more successful dead than alive with all his "posthumous" work's publication. What a marvelous, quirky, almost fantastical plot we have to work with; I applaud Bagieu on the originality and that touch of just-crazy-enough-to-be-cute.

Disappointingly, the execution isn't as sharp. The book was very easy to get through due to its short length and simplistic structure, but I didn't find any of the writing compelling or absorbing. I'm positive (or positively hoping) that there was some tone and humor lost in translation with this book. The style was indeed unexquisite, rather blunt than beautiful—I just wasn't impressed. It was also full of run-on sentences that just tilted everything slightly off, but that's pretty typical of most French translated literature.

Zoe's entanglement in the deceit that Rocher and his ex-wife are committing is comical in a literary sense, but it's nothing that stood out as witty or clever. There's a huge plot twist at the end that I won't give away, but again, this wasn't anything that shocked me or drew me in. The book is only novella-length at 124 pages, but it's much, much less if you don't count the illustrations; I suppose undeveloped characters and a flat plot-line just come with the territory.

I feel I'd recommend this book solely on the basis of its wonderful and unique drawings, which Bagieu also did herself. The full-color pictures may convince you to pick this one up, but be prepared for a pretty underwhelming short story that isn't as exciting as the synopsis makes it out to be.


A very quick read; both short in length and in text since the graphics take up a lot of the pages // Easy to navigate; pleasant, simple, yet completely eye-catching illustrations // Quirky fairy-tale ending


A pretty passing read... not particularly memorable or noteworthy about it // The plot is too straightforward, without much emotional or suspenseful resonance to it


Simple in narrative and easy to read, Exquisite Corpse is a book I enjoyed due to its cartoony and eccentric elements. This is definitely an adult's version of a picture book, with more mature themes of sex and deviousness running through it—at least PG-13 status, despite its frivolous, glitzily colorful drawings. Pénélope Bagieu's debut is among the easier and quicker graphic novels to read, although the short length and limited text space do result in underdeveloped story quality. As far as bande dessinées are concerned, Exquisite Corpse retains that slightly vintage Euro vibe that's classic to the genre, but still makes an offbeat splash in the scene, as it's totally minimalistic, sexy, and debauch—just as the Parisians do best Americanflag

6 hearts: Decent for a first read, but I'm not going back; this book is decidedly average (whatever that means!) (x)