French Milk by Lucy Knisley

French MilkIn the graphic novel French Milk, Lucy chronicles her month long visit with her mother in the enchanting city of Paris giving us plenty of illustrations on the city’s food and fashion, apparently the only things to have imprinted on her. A Goodreads’ summary describes French Milk as “grappling with the onslaught of adulthood” with both Lucy and her mother struggling “with their shifting relationship,” but the only noticeable struggle found is in the weather, long lines, and Lucy’s menstrual cramps. French Milk intrigues us with the notion of a 20-something woman’s exploration of the alluring, majestic city but leaves us wanting more observation and retrospect. Coming to terms with financial responsibility and intimacy as an adult is apparently a cakewalk.

Milk is more or less an illustrative diary. It’s compiled of dates, summaries, and illustrations cataloging her day. What we see is a transparent interpretation of her experience: what you see is what you get. Lucy offers little to no substance besides what she ate and wore. Lacking is a feeling of vulnerability and absorption of her surroundings. Lucy and her mother sightsee but don’t immerse themselves in the culture. We only read about the tourism aspect of the novel.

The narrator, twenty-two year old Lucy, delivers a mild interesting look at Paris that’s mostly juvenile. An art undergraduate student, Lucy finds things like Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, artwork, and the 2006 film of Marie Antoinette interesting, but Paris, a city she mentions she’s already been to, is nothing more than a hotspot for shopping. Some of the novel’s idiosyncratic moments are humorous, such as Lucy’s book-ending hangover or her mother’s early morning habit, but other than these funny moments, what we have is a narrator struggling to find and apply meaning from her current experience to her circumstances. We hardly learn about this alleged struggle between Lucy and her mother or Lucy’s young-adult problems. The narrator provides us a prosaic point of view that illustrates the widely, frustrating notion that 20-something can’t conceive anything profound and serious.

Lucy’s illustrations are fun and easy and quickly comb through her experiences. There’s no great effort shown but it’s this leisure-like quality that bolsters the tone of the story. Lucy animatedly depicts her shopping and culinary experiences but does so in the simplest of drawings. Unfortunately with the lackluster content and prose, the illustrations remain stagnant and never depart from literal depictions.

Milk should be recommended to anyone about to leave for a trip for Paris in the near future. Its story is tailored to meet the provincial desires of an American tourist (without a budget) and point him or her  in the right direction of Paris’s attractions (why she visited the Eiffel Tower three times I will never know…) It can act as a companion to anyone without any prior knowledge of Paris. For others, they’ll want something more substantial than a croissant.

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