We often associate mid-life crisis with middle-aged men, but in the touching and gentle Lulu Anew it’s a middle-aged woman who finds herself questioning her life, throwing caution to the wind and taking a no-ties guilt-free holiday from her husband and three kids.
It’s triggered by a spectacularly depressing job interview. Walking out of the drab office she decides not to head straight home but instead to go walkabout. Without putting any thought into her immediate future, an afternoon stroll turns into an overnight at a motel, where a chance meeting with a travelling saleswoman sees her hitching a lift to the coast, further and further away from her family. Here another chance encounter leads to an affair, and Lulu drifts further and further, seemingly unconcerned about the mess she might have left behind.
The story is told from the perspective of one of her friends, telling her story to others. Étienne Davodeau toys with our assumptions and expectations, leading us down one path only to reveal that everything isn’t quite as it seems. It’s a meticulously planned work, charting the chaos of a woman abandoning herself to fate in exquisite detail.
Davodeau’s art is the equal of the writing, perfectly capturing the beauty and the ugliness of the situation, building on the moral murk but maintaining the razor-sharp execution. The off-season seaside town, for example, is cast in subtle, winter hues, but the light brings everything into sharp focus. Lulu usually wears her hair tied back but wisps continually break free, blowing in the coastal wind like symbols of chaos barely restrained.
The book is a stunning piece of work, an unputdownable insight into the life of a middle-aged woman turned feral, casting herself adrift into her future in an accidental effort to find herself. Davodeau’s work casts little judgement over her actions and is all the better for it, making it as fascinating a story as if we were one of Lulu’s friends, sat around a table one night, listening to the story of Lulu’s abscondment.