The Voyeurs
by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized, 2012)

The fact that Gabrielle Bell, a prolific and critically acclaimed writer and artist who has traveled around the world, had a critically acclaimed director (Michael Gondry, Crumb) for a boyfriend, has met artists and famous people -- Crumb himself, Kim Deitch, Harvey Pekar and others -- and has a firm and highly respected foothold in the alternative comics scene, is, in real life, a very depressed person, is not hard to believe. Not if she can look at all that and still say, as she did halfway through this autobiography, that she has wasted her life and that her existence is banal.

We are all individuals who fight our own private battles, which is very much the point of Belle's personal essay, but it does seem that Bell does not do a very good job of understanding her own motives or even her own self. For all her technical skill, there is not much depth to this narrative about a person who finds it hard to be around people, to leave her home, or deal with life in general.

While it's true Bell is being her authentic self, and that self appears, on the surface, to be an interesting person, she does not seem to be able to explain herself very well. You don't have to be a highly accomplished individual in order to present your unique perspective on the world. Good biographies and autobiographies highlight that uniqueness, using it to transcend the mere facts of a person's life to really get into the heart and soul of the person in the center of the narrative. Events and people and particulars in The Voyeurs are described but not really felt. An enormous amount of time is devoted to vocalizing her frustration about her inability to connect but Bell does not seem to do very much with it or about it, except to surrender to it, to a paralyzing degree. The story really reads as a description of a woman who creates interesting art while at the same time cutting off every avenue of self-transformation available. Yet no real reason for the inability to connect is provided.

A certain degree of existential "lostness" is part and parcel of being an artist; however, Bell, while being very honest in her own way about trying to live life in the present, in the ends remains emotionally inaccessible and absent from her own work. It's understandable and it's good to have a look at introversion, and it's great to try and speak to alienation and loneliness, and it's also great to have a memoir that reminds us that even achievement and fame and camaraderie with celebrities doesn't bring contentment and peace.

review by
Mary Harvey

11 April 2015

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