Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu is a difficult novel to place. Chic lit, crime fiction, suspense, comedic, graphic (as in novel); it fits so many slots along the bookstore shelves. Exquisite Corpse, at first, appears simply written and modestly illustrated. That is just the veneer to set up the main character Zoe. As Zoe mixes with and grows to know famous author Thomas Rocher, the story deepens and nothing is simple.
Exquisite Corpse is set in Paris. Zoe is a disgruntled product representative; she is more or less a model at trade shows or, as Zoe puts it “booth babe”. She is in a poor relationship with a man who barely talks to her. It is during a lunch break away from her most recent product show that Zoe accidentally meets world famous author Thomas Rocher. He is a recluse and a puzzle. This is where Zoe’s life changes.
Zoe is not a character I’m generally drawn to. At the beginning of Exquisite Corpse, Zoe appears superficial. She just accepts life as it is and doesn’t appear involved in her own life, yet she complains about her circumstances. It is a co-worker who tells Zoe to do something about her situation if she is not happy or shut up. This is the kick-in-the-butt that Zoe evidently needs though the result possibly is not what one would expect. Zoe insinuates herself into author Thomas Rocher’s life then things change. This relationship is odd from the beginning. Zoe admittedly has never read a book or even been into a bookstore. Rocher is happy with Zoe’s ignorance of his fame. As their relationship progresses, they live together in Rocher’s Paris apartment out of sight of public eyes. Things become more complicated when Rocher’s editor, and wife in separation, Agathe shows up.
I wanted to read Penelope Bagieu’s Exquisite Corpse as soon as I looked at the first few pages. Bagieu’s illustrations and narration drew me straight into the novel. The story and tension build quickly. With increasing discord, Zoe grows and changes. As Zoe’s character transforms, she becomes much more likeable. At the same time, Rocher grows more ominous. The novel’s ending is a bit unexpected, yet befitting of this tale. I greatly enjoyed Exquisite Corpse and will look for more books by Penelope Bagieu.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by First Second. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.