GRAPHIC NOVELS

Flem

Conundrum. 2018. 80p. ISBN 9781772620283. pap. $20. Rated: Mature. LITERARY
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Julia Marten is in a bad place. Plagued by the ghost of her troubled mother and unable to diversify her artistic vision beyond macabre variations on the Madonna-and-child theme, she fails art school and soon falls in with a group of Femen-style activists (radical Ukrainian feminists) living in a squat in Brussels. For a moment it looks like she's found the home she craves, but her addiction and untreated mental illness quickly become a liability to the group and they, too, reject her. Julia's unraveling mental condition is reflected in the state of her nose: as she loses her grip on reality, she picks it more and more viciously, and by the feverish final pages it is as red and bulbous as a clown's. Rosen's use of bold, bright colors is an interesting contrast to the absolute bleakness of the subject matter.
VERDICT Many graphic novels explore mental illness, art, and mother-daughter relations in a more helpful way, including Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother?? and Ellen Forney's Marbles. This work contains mature language and images, but more than anything it's the complete lack of redemption that makes it inappropriate for younger readers—or for anyone struggling to keep a positive outlook.

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