Je Ne Sais Quoi

By Lucie Arnoux
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9781787333598

At first glance, there’s something immediately captivating about Je Ne Sais Quoi. Lucie Arnoux’s beautifully coloured, heavily detailed cover gets your attention from the get-go. What’s more, despite being in English, it’s presented in the European album format, hinting at the theme of duality that so infuses the book. That’s the cover judged – so what about the book?

These are collected recollections and experiences of a French-born Anglophile. Having grown up in Marseille, Lucie feels out of place at school and in the community at large. It’s not until a school trip to London as a teenager that her eyes are opened to the prospects of moving away. And so, that’s what she does. All she needs to do is find somewhere to live, complete her studies, find work, and master the language. Piece of cake…is one of the many colloquialisms she has to get to grips with.

Lucie shares a plethora of personal moments as she discovers her own many and varied skills, loves, disappointments, travels and a multitude of knick-knacks, doodads and thingamies that she can’t possibly part with. And a lot of books. This largely non-linear telling draws you close, made all the richer for Lucie’s gorgeously created comic pages – every one is a delight. Her eye for colour enhances every single spread, making a witty and warm memoir something altogether more mesmerising.

The honesty and immediacy never feel uncomfortable or false but refreshing and relatable. This may be a fish-out-of-water story of one woman’s change of culture but the challenges and doubts she experiences will no doubt chime with many a reader.

By the end you can’t help but like Lucie tremendously – even feel that you know her rather than just her illustrations upon a page. As far as memoirs go, that must be the desired outcome, and she deserves to be very pleased indeed with what she’s created.

And if you liked that: For a very different tale of a young woman’s change of circumstances, read the amazing book, Ducks.

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