Review by Frank Plowright
Although not a literal translation from French, Je ne sais quoi is an expression referring to some indefinable quality, and it’s a clever choice of title. As the subtitle notes, Lucie Arnoux is French, but lives in London, and the strips gathered here are only connected by her being both focus and creator, although they’re broadly sorted by subject. One has her interning for a French graphic novel publisher where Christophe Arleston is an editor. Little of a substantial back catalogue from the early 1990s onward has been translated into English, but he’s a hero to Arnoux, and advises she produce a page of work every month. It looks to have been a practice she’s maintained.
Arnoux places herself at the centre of every strip, and while there is some novelty to a French person’s reaction to what wouldn’t raise an English eye (snowfall, for instance), the charm and depth comes from her own personality. She transmits as having an inner confidence even when there’s the occasional surface uncertainty, and communicates so well. Even though much of what’s supplied is just everyday life, the visual imagination and polished cartooning raises the observations and there’s a real joy in just admiring the inventiveness. The strips are almost all just a single page and untitled, but she uses colour to differentiate one from the next.
This still applies, although with greater subtlety, toward the end of the book where there’s the greatest accumulation of strips running longer than the single page. They all deal with travels, and experiences while out of the UK. As has been seen in earlier strips, Arnoux is adventurous, and unafraid of new experiences, perhaps unusual in someone who’s also very attached to possessions. While not everyone would want to try skydiving, sometimes the adventurous side of her personality transmits as a lack of caution, although that could just be down to the shorthand storytelling required to fit a page or two. While nothing goes wrong, heading off with a stranger in a strange land doesn’t seem advisable, yet she’s so practical in other respects.
While the travel section supplies the most fascinating items, Arnoux is a constantly engaging host whatever she’s discussing. It forms an invitation into someone else’s life while they’re open and honest with the reader meaning Je ne sais quoi has a joie de vivre delighting from start to finish.