Blue is the Warmest Color

Maroh, Julie. (2013). Blue is the Warmest Color. [English language edition]. Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press.

[Note: some spoilers, but they are obvious from the first few pages.]

Blue is the Warmest Color was first published in French in 2010; this edition was translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger. I do not speak French, so I can’t comment on the original phrasing and word choices, but for me the dialog felt somewhat labored at times, with some strange phrasing. However, this did not affect the story for me, as I figured it was perhaps due to cultural difference, and the themes and art were so engaging.

From the first few pages, it’s clear that Clementine, the protagonist, dies at the end, and the story is parceled out via diary entries that Emma, her partner, is reading. I liked the format of diary entries and flashbacks, with smooth transitions between the past and present. The title refers to Emma’s hair color when she first meets Clementine as a punky art student. Throughout her life, Clementine muses on that color and makes it into a symbol of love and vivaciousness.

The narrative is fairly simple: Clementine meets and falls in love with an older woman, but has to deal with homophobia- both internalized and from family and peers. Her coming out journey is challenging, as she has to come to terms with Emma’s radical activism, being disowned by her family, and negotiating her own sexuality and political identity.

The simplicity of the narrative lends a universal air to it- I could see myself in Clementine: the confusion of early questioning, the thrill of first love and sex, the emotional ups and downs of adolescence and the difficulty of going against family and peer approval. Content note: there are some sex scenes. I think they are particularly well done; they feel authentic, they fit with the narrative, and I like that they show such transparent joy and love.

Blue is the Warmest Color is now a major motion picture that won a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. I’ve not seen it, but it’s on my hold list!

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About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, Librarian, Legend Tripper, and Queer Activist
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