Sadly, I read this after I saw the film so it will be a little difficult to discuss the novel without mentioning the film. I should’ve read this before I saw the film but since that can’t be helped, let’s move on. This book blew me away. I loved it. At its core, Blue is a love story and it was both tender and heart-breaking. Having seen the film and reading the book, I can now say with certainty that the book is definitely better. Blue is written and illustrated by Julie Maroh and her artwork is very different from the usual DC and Marvel fare. But, more on that later.
Blue is the Warmest Colour is about Clementine (Clem), a young student who seems to have a good life. She’s pretty, has friends, gets good grades and even has a boyfriend. But, she doesn’t feel complete, like a piece of her is missing. She’s going out with a great guy but can’t get herself to really care about it. She just goes through the motions because it’s what is expected of her. In her own words, she’s a girl and girls go out with boys. A chance encounter with a blue-haired girl changes that. With her, Clem comes to life. Suddenly, she doesn’t need anything else. The blue haired girl’s name is Emma. Clem and Emma seem perfect for each other but there are plenty of obstacles in their way. For starters, Emma already has a girlfriend, Clem has her own prejudices to deal with and once that is sorted, there’s the fact that her parents know nothing about her and Emma. They get through these though and finally end up living together. But no relationship stays the same, they change as the people engaged in them change. Emma and Clementine have a very different outlook towards their sexuality (Emma is open about it and doesn’t mind that people know that, but for Clem it’s something very personal and not something she wants to broadcast) and this slowly starts driving a wedge in their relationship. A few wrong decisions and it’s all over.
For the most part, the book focused on Clementine’s school days and her relationship with her family, friends and finally Emma. Clem wasn’t close to her family; her father was indifferent and her mother, while she did care, had no clue about what was going on in Clem’s life. Except Valentine, who was an absolute sweetheart, most of her other friends were insensitive and turned on her the minute they suspected that she might be a lesbian. Her friend’s attack was especially vicious and makes one wonder if it hadn’t been as vicious would Clem have been able to be more open about herself? That confrontation left a very lasting impression on her and unfortunately continued to inform her decisions even after she lost touch with her immature, narrow-minded friends.
Clem was easy to relate to. She was unsure of herself and looking for someone who could guide her. She felt like everyone else had their lives figured out, everyone but her. Clem’s confusion, fears and insecurities were very well portrayed. She was isolated even from those around her because she knew that they wouldn’t be of any help. Social prejudices were so deeply ingrained in her that she hated herself for wanting what she did. It was then understandable why she gravitated towards Emma, who seemed so sure of herself and who didn’t care what people thought of her. She was assertive and opinionated. She seemed to have all the answers. Emma was everything Clem aspired to be. She got so dependent on Emma that after they broke up, she fell to pieces and couldn’t even muster the effort to try and get over her. She had no one to fall back on except Valentine. It was almost as if she cut herself off emotionally from the rest of the world and once Emma left her; she just didn’t know how to function.
The story is actually a flashback and is told through letters and diaries. Maroh differentiates between the present and past by using colours for the present and almost exclusively using black and white for the past sequences. The artwork is pretty distinct. Blue is one of the colours that she uses in the black and white sequences. It became a very important colour for Clem because she spotted Emma is a sea of people and the first thing she noticed about her was the colour of her hair. That colour became a beacon of salvation for her before she even realised that she needed it. Maroh once again used tones of blue towards the end. It also looks like Maroh used watercolours with lots of greys thrown in instead of the strong and solid black and white you see in a lot of other black and white graphic novels.
Because the story is narrated using letters and diaries, the style of writing reflects the informality of tone. The writing is very simple and realistic. Blue is also not very text-heavy. There’s a lot that Maroh communicates using only images and this really works as opposed to really long thought bubbles, which are, frankly, very cumbersome. Maroh doesn’t add needless embellishments to her story because she doesn’t need to. The story is powerful by itself. The words and the artwork compliment each other perfectly and add more weight to the story.
This is probably one of the most touching love stories I have read in sometime. It is not simply a lesbian love story, it’s about having no control over who you fall in love with and the idea of a socially acceptable (sanctioned?) love. It makes you question labels, because things aren’t always so easy to categorise. And more importantly, why must you fall in one category or another. You will find yourself thinking about it long after you’re done reading it and you will fall in love with its beautifully flawed characters.