*** Apnée (vf Going Under) by Zviane

Going Under

Depression feels like drowning from the inside. Welcome to the aftermath of a mental breakdown.

Sophie is trying to mend the pieces of her broken life. The people around her think she is “cured”, but she knows she still has a long way to go before she truly feels “better”. Going Under is not a story as much as a process, fragments of a personal journey collected in order to make as much sense as possible of an experience which still feels impossible to describe. A sober portrait drawn in a minimal, almost self-erased style, Zviane’s award-winning graphic novel showcases both her interest in classical music and her remarkable talent for intelligent, poignant character studies. Through this second-person account, she achieves a state of dissociation which mirrors the feelings of her protagonist – centering her narrative around emotions and the way images can convey them when words otherwise fail to do so.

A book that’s like a punch to the guts. I’m not recommending this book to people in my non-online life because my friends don’t like it when I recommend them media about depression, for some reason. (I still haven’t found anyone I could convince to try playing Sea of Solitude, despite it being a very solid game.)

This book adresses everything: executive disfunction, self-sabotaging, preventing yourself from doing things you’d actually genuinely enjoy because you’re afraid of how other people will judge you for it (a common factor that impedes recovery), having to force yourself through sex for the sake of a parner. Obviously, this book comes with a massive trigger warning and is not for everyone.

Going Under (which I read in the original french) is a comic that was planned, sketched and inked in a matter of weeks. I know that because I went to the same university than Zviane attended, and she came and gave a talk to our class one day. It reads pretty much the same, in one single block of time, and then it takes months to properly process. It sits in your stomach, feeling like the truth, feeling too close to reality, and you can’t probably articulate why the book came and grabbed you the way it did.

On the surface, the main character of Going Under feels similar to another character in literature, the main character of The Stranger by Albert Camus. They both feel nothing, and do not really care but still continue to live their life, mimicking the right things to say and the right things to do so their entourage doesn’t realize how empty they are inside. But Sophie is a lot more relatable and interesting. She cared, at one point, and wants to do so again, but is trapped inside of her struggle. The guy in that Albert Camus novel was just an asshole. (Don’t @ me.)

Like in Sea of Solitude, the metaphor of depression is expressed through water. In this comic, Sophie likens her depression with drowning, being trapped under with no idea of when she will resurface. She sees all of the other characters she interacts with through a layer of cynicism, guessing at their future with the certainty that she is right and that life cannot possibly ever be good, for anyone. When she is proved wrong, when someone mentions off-hand a detail that is different than what she had guessed/theorized, its like it doesn’t even sink it. (hint: that’s because depression is a lying a-hole.)

The art style is also disarmingly simple, even naive at times, but it serves very well to portray it’s subject matter, where everything seems devoid of details or life, and dissociation makes everything fall away. Five panels become two panels become a blank page; anyone who has felt their own brain go through that same process will find it relatable. And it allows the story to breathe, to strech on, to take on that endless quality.

So, yeah. Three stars because the book was very good and I still think about it, even have a vivid memory of it, years after having read it. But no more because, according to my rating scale, four stars is for books that I would recommend, and I just cannot bring myself to tell my friends and family to read it. I’ll talk about it and praise it, but I won’t rec it. It’s a book that you have to discover for yourself, I feel, and decide to read on your own terms.

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