Reviews

The Two Lives of Penelope, by Judith Vanistendael

readwithethel's review

Go to review page

3.0

A very interesting read

Key words: graphic novel, contemporary fiction

This graphic novel was really interesting. First the story. I didn’t quite get what the goal of the author was here but I still liked the story. It is a bit strange but it is very interesting to follow this woman’s journey when she comes back to her life in Belgian after working as a surgeon in Syria. I liked how some panels showed the parallelism between the two lives.

Second, the drawings. I think the use of watercolour like that is very interesting. It kind of blurs the drawing, making it more like a sort of dream. It is especially interesting in the case of the ghost as it adds to its texture.

I recommend it.

3.5/5

kiki86's review

Go to review page

4.0

I received an ARC ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I really loved this short graphic novel.
The illustration was amazing.
You follow a mother that has returned from helping in Syria and trying to adjust back into her job and her family.
This book was moving and I left me wanting more! (which is a good thing)

vinisgorla's review

Go to review page

4.0

[I received an ARC ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you for the book!]

A graphic novel about a surgeon who finds out that combining her job and her family is not easy and that she is also gradually bringing things with her from Syria. Traumatic things. I wasn't sure what the book would be about, but I still wanted to try it. The art looked very nice (almost unique for a GN) so I was more than happy to read it.

It is therefore about a surgeon, Penelope, who operates in both Brussels and Syria, who tries to combine her work life and her home life. I have to say I had little to no sympathy for Penelope. I understand that she finds her mission important, that it is her life to help in a country like Syria, but if you have been doing that for 10 years, have barely seen your family for all this time because you always come and gone for months and months, then you shouldn't get angry when people point it out to you or if your husband asks you to come home and stay (because he miss you, he is concerned, and he has to take care of the child all by himself). And your child will love you, but in a completely different way than you might want. More distant. Knowing more that you will leave anyway. I thought it was quite creepy (just like her child thought) that she sat on her child's bed for a while, staring at her child in the evening. Um ...

You should definitely not try to pretend you never left, which she unfortunately does. While her husband and daughter have found a rhythm in life without a mother, without a wife. I thought it was so sad for the daughter by the way. Having her first period and then had to call grandma who had to tell her everything because mom was gone and never cared).

So yes, sorry. Again, I think it's cool and great that she's doing all that work, work that many won't do because of the danger. BUT. You also have a family. You also have a loved one. I thought it was sad that she just kept disappearing and coming back without anyone knowing. Well great.

My heart also broke when Christmas was almost here and the daughter had a recital. Immediately they were asked whether mothers would be there. Well that says enough about how many Christmases and birthdays and other events mom has missed.

But, even though I just didn't like Penelope much, the book was beautifully written and I liked the bond between father and daughter. You just see they became a duality when mothers stayed away. You can see that fathers now know very well how his daughter works and also how they should work together to make the household work well.
The family was also beautiful and I loved that they got together so often and helped each other so much. Were there for each other.

The illustrations were beautifully and creatively done. Especially the ghost / trauma that Penelope took with her was very heartbreaking. Growing and dwindling. Sometimes big, sometimes small, depending on how Penelope felt. And in the end I was both angry and sad. By the way, I do hope that Penelope has found help because if you bring ghosts home, it is not going well.

zaba_cita_novine's review

Go to review page

3.0

Penelope is a surgeon in Syria, and every time she gets home to visit her family, the ghosts hunt her.

This was a moody read. At times, it was confusing with unrelated topics, but very emotional, actually. I didn't like the drawing style but I liked the watercolor effect and what it meant to set the mood and even feeling surrounding certain objects.

My thoughts on Penelope are pretty broken and divided. On one side, I have nothing but respect for her, for living in the center of the war, trying to save lives and do what's best. But on the other side, I can't help myself but put a "bad mother" tag on her back for abandoning her teenage daughter and even looking at her with condescending eyes at times, finding her shallow because she doesn't understand what living in war is. She is constantly blaming her family for not understanding war so much so that she abandons them completely.

This book definitely needs more though on my side. It was a quick, but not an easy read.

A big thank you to Europe Comics and NetGalley for providing me with with an early copy in exchange for an honest review.

nimbella's review against another edition

Go to review page

4.0

This was a very emotional read. This graphic novel gives a snapshot of the life of Penelope, a Belgian MSF surgeon working in Aleppo, who returns home to her husband and daughter for a three-month break, something she's done many times over the past decade. The detailed watercolour style is beautiful and reflects the shaky grip she has on her emotions.

The story really focuses on Penelope's strained relationships with her family and friends, as a result of being away from them for so long. Home life is in stark contrast to the trauma of a war zone and her family's 'first world problems' frustrate her. There are arguments but the novel does a good job of letting you see both sides and you ultimately understand that the situation complicated and there is no easy resolution.

While the art is beautiful, it wasn't always easy to follow as there are no borders or blank spaces between panels and the speech bubbles were not always sequential. Coupled with a watercolour-based style, this meant it was often tricky to tell if something was one or two panels, which tripped me up as I was getting into the flow of reading.

*Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for an ARC of this book*

akriti's review

Go to review page

4.0

Book: The Secret Lives of Penelope
Author: Judith Vanistendael
.

leensk's review

Go to review page

3.0

the main character really struggled adjusting to her life at home having been away for such a long time, whilst also getting frustrated by other characters’ actions, including their belief that she doesn’t care about her family.

the watercolour & artwork was really lovely. i liked how the scenes with the therapist were drawn but i struggled to follow it at times; i think some scenes felt quite out of place.

reading_renbow's review

Go to review page

dark emotional hopeful reflective fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

livani's review

Go to review page

challenging dark emotional reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

gingerkathrynreads's review

Go to review page

challenging emotional informative reflective sad fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

I was given an ARC ebook copy free through Netgalley.
This was an incredibly moving story exploring strained relationships between a woman and her sister, husband and in particular her teenage daughter, as she is torn between her home life and serving as a doctor for MSF in Syria. I loved the exploration of trauma and the way that was visually represented with
Spoilerthe ghost of the child the doctor lost in Syria - such a powerful way to depict the way in which experiences can haunt those who return from war.
I also loved the way in which Penelope sought councilling and talked openly about how she was feeling and what she was experiencing, and the way in which it's depicted as a one-sided conversation as it can so often feel. There were so many things about this book that made me reflect upon my relationship with my own mother. The art style is beautiful - I love the natural water marks left by the watercolour and the pen-outline illustration style. I would love a print copy of this beautiful work when/if one becomes available!

Expand filter menu Content Warnings