French Milk is a non-fiction graphic novel that focuses on six weeks the author, Lucy Knisley, spent in Paris with her mother one summer. Lucy is in her early twenties and her Mum is about to turn fifty. The book itself is a diary of all their experiences in Paris, from visiting the sights to eating lots of delicious French food. But as it is a diary, it also contains Lucy's own reflections about her life and the future.
I was expecting to enjoy French Milk as I love graphic novels, travel and food, but I wasn't expecting to relate to Lucy as much as I did and enjoy it on a deeper level, too. In between the entries about visiting Oscar Wilde's grave, admiring the artwork at the Lourve and shopping at vintage markets, Lucy writes with honesty about the experience of travelling and how she feels about her life. On one early page, she sends a homesick email to her boyfriend, only to get a "you're having the experience of a life-time, you should be enjoying it!" sort of reply. This so corresponds with my own experience of travel; every-time I have gone abroad for a longer period of time I have had travellers guilt about missing home and finding some things hard, even though I knew that I was having the most wonderful experience that I would look back on for years to come. I liked that Lucy was honest about this part of travel and also about the little things, like thinking of Walt Disney when visiting Notre Dame.
But what I related to most was Lucy's relationship with her mother and how she felt about her future. She's at that stage you get to in your early-twenties if you have been to university, where you are starting to really grow up and be more independent, but you're still attached to your parents and you still regress to being a teenager whenever you see them. Lucy writes about being childish when she visits her parents home at the beginning of the book and sometimes needs her Mum to comfort her when she's feeling overwhelmed by the future. When I was 23, I was living with my boyfriend and was deemed responsible enough to be in charge of 30 children on my own all day, but I would still phone my Mum for washing machine instructions and after cooking disasters. Knisley perfectly captures that phase of your life, when your relationship with your parents starts to change.
The parts about Paris itself were lovely, too. I've only been to Paris once and definitely need to go back one day. This book had me thinking about all of the things I would want to do once I got there. The drawing style was more Persepolis than super-hero, which fits my personal preferences:
On the whole, French Milk was enjoyable and successful both as a travelogue and as a memoir about a stage in the authors life. I just whizzed through it and am excited to pick up Knisley's other graphic novel, Relish.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2007
My Edition: Touchstone, 2008
Score: 4.5 out of 5