Horizontal Collaboration by Navie (writing) & Carole Maurel (art) | translated from the French by Margaret Morrison
Published by Korero Press, 2019 (first published in 2017)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
“Horizontal collaboration” is a term coined to describe French women who embarked on romantic or sexual relationships with German soldiers during Occupation. This graphic novel opens in the present day, with a young woman visiting her elderly grandmother, lamenting the complexities of modern love. This inspires her grandmother to finally open up about her own past, divulging the details of a tragic love affair she became entangled in back in 1942.
Though the context of war clearly plays an important part in setting up the story, and it does indeed loom ominously in the background, the focus is placed firmly on the characters and the intricacies of their everyday lives. With much of the story set in a single apartment building, weaving in and out of the various inhabitants’ lives, we are presented with a microcosm of society at the time. This allows the author to show us the universal struggles that continued to dominate even in times of international crisis. From petty squabbles with the neighbours, to issues of domestic violence, and from secret love affairs, to quiet struggles with sexuality; this book touches on so much of the human experience.
The characters themselves are realistically flawed and complex. Within the relatively short scope of the story, the author manages to paint a picture of the moral dilemmas that people were forced to navigate day to day, and the divide between those who acted in aid of the greater good, and those who served only themselves.
The book has its moments of charm and hope, but it doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality many people faced under Occupation. Indeed, there were at least four occasions when I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. My only slight critique is how fast moving the narrative was on occasion, which meant it took me some time to get to grips with the dynamic between the numerous characters. That said, the art is a huge factor in the success of any graphic novel, and Maurel’s style is gorgeous; ideally suited to the story being told. Rich, vivid and expressive, her work is at its best when she employs aesthetically striking and emotionally haunting imagery. If the story was a solid 4 star read for me, the artwork more than earned the book that coveted 5th star.
I’ve deliberately avoided plot specifics, as I went into this somewhat blind, and would encourage others to do the same if possible. I loved watching the highs and lows of these characters’ lives unfold, and it’s a story I know will stay with me. I sincerely hope Navie and Maurel will team up again in the future; their styles working here in perfect harmony.
If you’d like to give Horizontal Collaboration a go, you can pick up a copy with free shipping from Book Depository by clicking here. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!