Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée
Writer & Artist: Geneviève Castrée
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Release Date: February 19, 2013
It’s a relief to discover that Susceptible isn’t the first thing Geneviève Castrée has published, although she’s still a relatively young artist with 32 years behind her. With a few other books and compilation appearances, she’s had time to work up to this impressive offering that otherwise might feel too sui generis. Susceptible is autobiographical, but less a straightforward narrative than a chronologically arranged rendering of discrete childhood memories. And it is deeply sad. As far as those elements are concerned, Castrée’s work bears some resemblance to Lynda Barry’s, but the latter often holds a weird fundamental cheerfulness at its core, no matter how outwardly depressing its events may seem.
Any parent may feel this book almost too intensely. Castrée’s Mother and Father, who view their daughter (nicknamed Goglu) as an unwanted product of a reckless liaison, set her adrift on a path of frustrating self-destructive behavior. That intensity marks the book’s major strength, conveyed through visuals more than verbiage. An English-speaker could read this book in its original French Canadian and still comprehend the confusion and rage at its center, perceptible in its characters’ expressive eyebrows (flushes rendered with subtle wash) and a thousand varieties of poor posture. The tiny cursive that Castrée renders dialogue in is both tightly controlled and loopily delicate. Even the endpapers, which show hundreds of tiny arrows pointing in all directions, contribute to the sense of oppression and lack of control that proves the essence of adolescence.
Thankfully, it’s not all downhill. The conclusion allows for some peace, and even more so, acceptance, although questions about the future remain unanswered and the gnawing sensation in your chest never quite eases. Life is horrifically unpredictable and horrifically predictable at the same time, depending on your perspective, and while that insight may not always make for the most delightful reading, it’s a rare lens for a talent as young as Castrée.