Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut, opens with a scene of Nicole Kidman undressing. It is deliberate. Kubrick knows that the audience expects to see nudity. So he puts it up front to not only get it out of the way, but to tell the audience that he is on to them. He knows what they are expecting. Now that they have it, there is an entire movie to go. Guess what will happen next!
Gabrielle Bell does the same thing with her latest book, The Voyeurs. With a title like that, readers expect scenes of people watching other people having sex. So Bell gives us that as the opening scene. Now, with that out of the way, Bell says to the reader, “I know what you were expecting. Now you have had it. Guess what? There is an entire book to go. And, since this is a book about my life…YOU are the voyeurs!”
The Voyeurs chronicles four years in Gabrielle Bell’s life as she rides the emotional roller-coaster of publishing success, living in the shadow of someone more famous than you, starting and ending relationships, and the never ending string of curiosities that is life. But, like the title suggests, we are just outsiders looking in at her life. We never get a full understanding of who everyone is, what their relationship may be, and why they are together in the first place. It is simultaneously frustrating and freeing. At time I found myself googling Gabrielle Bell to learn more about her life so I could understand ome things that were happening. At other times I found myself just letting the details wash over me and simply reading the scenes and experiencing them only with what was given.
Bell is particularly harsh on herself. While it would be easy to blame some of the people in her life for the pain or confusion they cause her. However Bell instead struggles with what she has done to cause the issue. It is a strange situation and a bit uncomfortable. We expect to see a polished version of reality when we read autbiocomics. We expect to see the creators after they have processed everything and carefully compartmentalized their feelings. Bell gives us the true voyeur experience by having us sit through all of this as mute observers.
Bell’s art is rough, taking away any sense of glamor or polish. Bell applies her inks with a heavy hand, leaving large dark rectangles all over the page. While it is a bit off-putting at times, it helps to ground the reader in the reality of the situation. Sure Bell is living in France. Sure she is off to Tokyo to promote her movie. Sure she is dating a famous movie director. While it would be easy to romanticize any (or all!) of that,the art keeps it all in perspective. Dinners with friends in her crummy apartment are just as glamorous as being interviewed on television or being a guest of honor at San Diego Comic Con.
The Voyeurs is a challenging book. You come for the sex, but will you stay for the real story? Hopefully you will, because Gabrielle Bell’s book is definitely worth the read.
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