Page 45 Review by Stephen
Here's an intriguing hypothetical for you:
"What would you do if your fifteen-year-old self showed up at your door?"
Would you, for a start, recognise them immediately and instinctively realise that, however improbable, there must have been some time / space seepage? Would you wince at their lame sense of fashion, chronic acne and well wonky hair? Would you balk at the very possibility that it could even be you, or welcome their arrival as an opportunity to educate, give them great solace or even a kick up the arse?
Let's flip that a little:
"What would that teenager think of what you'd become?"
Unless you are a teenager reading this review, of course, in which case: can you imagine meeting your 33-year-old self? Who do you imagine you'd be by that age, and what do you think you'd be doing? I mean: for friendship, self-fulfilment and for a living?
It's worth having a good old cogitation upon all that before reading this book or even this review, because creator Carole Maurel is going to propel this in a completely different direction from anything that I'd anticipated other than this: modern technology, socio-political progress on the sexuality front will indeed prove satisfyingly pivotal to the proceedings.
Meanwhile, both perspectives are explored here as 15-year-old Luisa Arambol from Chartres wakes one morning on a bus which she'd boarded the night before back in 1995, and is told in no uncertain terms to dismount. She has absolutely no idea where she is, but quickly discovers she's in Paris.
She attempts to phone home using a credit card at a public call box, but the card is rejected. She tries to buy a phone card in the nearest tabac / café only to be ridiculed for not being in possession of a smart phone. She earnestly tries to pay for the phone card in Francs.
"Is this a joke?"
This is no joke. Poor young Luisa may now know that she is in Paris, but she still has no clue that it's 2013, a good ten years after Francs in France were discarded for Euros. She's at her wit's end.
Naughtily enough, that's where I'm going to leave you on that thread.
33-year-old Luisa Arambol, meanwhile, is living in that self-same city in that self-same time, which is 2013. She has inherited the flat which she lives in from her Aunt Aurelia. Although Luisa once had more fulfilling dreams of being an inventive, arty photographer like 23 Envelope's Vaughan Oliver, she's perfectly happy with her paid work, photographing foodstuffs to look fancy with dear friend Farid for glossy magazine advertisements. What she's disgruntled about is her love life: a succession of men she dates enthusiastically at first, but who prove way too mundane once they're shacked up with together. To be honest, it's not just them: it really is her. They're good for a fling, but the reality is really not pressing her buttons at all.
Now, as my early questions suggest, the two are going to come into contact and everything up to that point is perfect, especially young Luisa's protracted confusion (no one is going come straight out like Doctor Who and ask "Wait - what year is this?"), what she makes of modern technology ("Crazy, Paris is so high tech."), and the means by which she discovers the date. Also impressive is how credibly Good Samaritan Sasha, who temporarily adopts Luisa in order to help her track down local relatives, reacts to Luisa's predicament and the personal possessions she finds in her duffel bag. And finally there's that search for local relatives which of course would be Aunt Aurelia who was still alive back in 1995, and you already know who's living in that flat now!
The colours don't half glow on the page, and the portraiture throughout is delicious, reminding me of SAGA's Fiona Staples, particularly the double-page spread when each Luisa finally realises the truth about the other's identity. The clothes all hang just-so off the bodies, the lines are soft, the skin smooth, and the hair fulsome and silky. Everyone's conditioning regimen is admirable.
But it quickly becomes clear that the questions should have been "What would you do if your fifteen-year-old self showed up at your door and what would that teenager think of what you'd become if you'd long denied your sexuality partly because of an incident during which your fifteen-year-old self failed to support another girl she had a pash on when that other girl was subjected to some seriously vilifying homophobic abuse and ostracism which was then compounded by your mother?"
That's a very specific question.
What's on the page is pretty powerful stuff - and is cleverly tied in to further family history - but it's what's not on the page which left me disappointed, which is everything else. None of the other ever so many questions and answers I'd seek of the other are explored, and I found that so frustrating.
There's also one hell of a lot of incomprehensible crotchetiness throughout on adult Luisa's part, and she chastises her younger self unforgivingly for being unsure of her leanings when we all know that a fifteen-year-old's life is both confusing and restrictive. Okay, we can perhaps put that down to adult guilt, but does everyone in Paris treat waiters like dirt? That really rankled.
However, the good news is that a) you'll like chic Sasha, and b) there are more surprises to come, for although neither of them realises it at first things are still alarmingly in flux, and there is a stunning scene involving a reflection on a restaurant's floor.
By the way, that is indeed Mariko Tamaki, the co-creator with cousin Jillian Tamaki of THIS ONE SUMMER and SKIM, whom you see credited for the book's "English Language Adaptation".
For more non-genre time travel (i.e. gentle fiction in which the only science-fiction is that you have returned in time to your childhood, please see also Jiro Taniguchi's flawlessly contemplative A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD.
Lastly, since I posed those two hypotheticals, I think it's only fair that I append answers of my own.
"What would you do if your teenage self showed up at your door?"
I'd start by reassuring the poor boy - bewildered by what on earth life might be like beyond school - that it'll all be all right in the end. I don't know about you, but aged 15 I could not imagine being capable enough of anything to independently earn a living.
"What would that teenager think of what you'd become?"
I believe he'd say, "That makes perfect sense".
On all counts.