How to stay positive

<strong>Blue Pills</strong>

Frederik Peeters <em>Jonathan Cape, 192pp, £12.99</em>

Winner of the Best Book prize at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, Blue Pills is a fearless memoir that chronicles the “worries and desires” of a relationship complicated by HIV.

Fred is an artist living in Geneva, where he meets Cati at a house party. First impressions are vague but promising. “I remember wondering if we were actually very alike or very different,” he ponders, thinking little of the encounter until “the rhythm of chance” throws them together again. A romance blossoms, before Cati nervously tells him that both she and her son are HIV-positive.

Peeters’s portrayal of this modern-day intimacy, for all its specific details about the fight against HIV, transcends its immediate subject. “Life before everything . . . right?” asks the couple’s doctor, and those words accurately sum up the attitude of the book. Focusing on the everyday realities of coping with illness, Peeters explores the limits of love, and raises philosophical questions about “the end of the human” and “the end of science”.

The inked visuals are confident and evocative, and they are loose enough to accommodate both realist and surreal episodes. A rhino and a talking mammoth stand for HIV and “scientific poetry” respectively. This is a revelatory, optimistic world.

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Moral crisis?