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Book Review :: Layers by Pénélope Bagieu

Pénélope Bagieu’s newest memoir collection of comics, Layers, seems to follow the standard course of symbolism in deconstructing a past through layers of memories, some connected experiences, and some seemingly random recalls. However, by the close of the book, I felt more like I had been layered in warm comforting blankets of someone’s past, perhaps with a few snags and worn patches along the way.

Bagieu’s style is disarming in its simplicity. This black-and-white collection focuses each frame on a particular character or character object with very little if any scenery and minimal props. The focus is on narrative details, some of which follow a particular arc, such as the life of a family cat whose bad behaviors the family puts up with like saints, Bagieu’s recounting her involvement with physical activities that stem from a misunderstanding in her youth, and a lifelong battle with heat – as in the utility.

Other stories in the collection center on Bagieu’s experiences with sexual harassment, abuse, and just general crappy behavior, whether directed at her or others. The collection was built upon journal pages from Bagieu’s youth, now rendered in hindsight as an adult, but Bagieu retains the sense of being merely an observer and reporter here for the reader to make their own decisions in response to the image sequences.

Adding to the layering effect of the reading is the fact that each segment is followed by a blank page. Somewhat luxurious, but essential to the reading, as with the closing of each piece, that blank page allows the reader to rest a beat and let the story and its meaning settle in before just plowing ahead to the next. This is especially critical to pieces like the harrowing “Florence,” which are so fast-paced, that an extra page of rest is needed for the reader to allow the weight of the narrative to settle.

The closing stories are of strength and gumption, ending the collection with an adult Bagieu wrapping her youthful self in a blanket in one and meeting up with her grandmother in the afterlife in another. These provide closure to the stories collected here, and upend the trope of dismantling the layers of one’s life, as here, the reader feels more layered into the stories and the experiences they provided.

Wrapped in these memories, the reader’s own now entwined with the author’s, Layers feels as comforting as a life well lived.

Layers: A Memoir by Pénélope Bagieu. First Second :01, October 2023.

Reviewer bio: NewPages.com Editor Denise Hill reviews books based on personal interest.

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