Lightness by Catherine Meurisse

★★★☆☆

Lightness follows one of the survivors of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and how she learns to see beauty again.

I had to read this book in small doses because of the subject matte’s gravity. While the “plot” of the book can be summed up tidily, the author pulls us into her head by showing how faulty her memory had become after the attack and by tying her past to her present. She sees the attack everywhere she goes, from the police escort that follows her in Paris, to the statues in Rome, to paintings in the Louvre. She sees her dead colleagues when she experiences things they would have enjoyed.

When the attack happened, I was working at a French salon in New York. Everyone was glued to their phones in horror as the news came through (and then again at the end of the year when the Bataclan was attacked). For me as an author, I thought about what it meant that a group of cartoonists were murdered — sure, I didn’t write the same kinds of things they did, but surely I was objectionable to someone. And even if what is written really is offensive (my boss at the salon bought the first issue Charlie Hebdo released after the attack, and when he showed it to his clients, there were a few cartoons he refused to translate because “that one’s really bad”), do they deserve to die for it? And I have to admit, I was swept up in the “Je Sui Charlie” hashtag along with my writing community, because of course, that answer is NO.

The style of this book reminded me of Guy Delisle’s travel graphic novels. Story-wise, there’s not much to them, but through the eyes of the narrator, you see a place you might never go yourself — and in the case of Lightness, feel something you (hopefully) will never feel.

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