This is a cross post (with added comments!) from goodreads. I added Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie to my read and graphic novel bookshelves, and gave it 3 of 5 stars. Below you will find my review. I warn where the spoilers start.
To start with, the 3 stars doesn’t mean that I’d recommend it right away. It’s more like 2 1/2, but opted for 3 because I’m still mostly undecided on this. I read my friend’s copy of the complete collection while house sitting, and I don’t regret it, but I’m not convinced I need my own copy.
Secondly, it’s a pornographic re-interpretation of the characters Wendy Darling, Alice, and Dorothy, and their stories, Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz. And when I say pornographic, I mean explicit, nothing left to the imagination, porn from almost the first page. It’s important to know before you pick it up, because it may not be for you simply on that count.
Alice is an older, lesbian woman who meets Dorothy, who is visiting Europe from Kansas for vague reasons, and Wendy, whose husband is on assignment for work, in an expensive hotel in Austria on the eve of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand. They each share their initial experiences with sex and draw their own conclusions on how that’s impacting their life at the time of the comic. They generally share these stories over the course of the graphic novel as they are in some sort of sex act – take your pick. As a warning – there are spoilers after this.
What I liked:
Using the framework found in the familiar fairy tales as an extended metaphor for the way that women tend to suppress their sexuality for various reasons – the pain and trauma of abuse, adherence to a strict religious view that denies all pleasure, or conforming to strict social norms.
The need for women to reclaim their whole self, especially those aspects we have been told, or that we tell ourselves, are abhorrent. Toward the end Wendy says, “We can’t disown the girls we were. We can’t … I don’t know. Can’t let them remain lost to us.” At the very end of their story telling, each woman feels as though they have regained possibility in their lives, which makes me not regret the time reading the graphic novel.
It’s a type of coming of age story, in the sense that these women face their issues and become more wholly themselves. What makes this aspect more interesting is that they are varying ages, from early twenties to (I’m guessing) nearing mid-fifties.
I liked that the characters all seemed to blur together. Many people find that as a fault, but it adds that this kind of growth could belong to anyone, much like the fairy tales we know the women from originally.
Using the start of the First World War as the background for their personal revelations. That war resulted in the shattering of much that had been known and understood. It is something that parts of Europe still haven’t completely healed from. It sparked some of the most creative work in the decade after, and unsettled many conventions that we continue to subvert. Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie showed their attention to the importance of small details in this choice.
The many literary allusions made me smile, especially the rather obscure ones.
What I didn’t so much like:
The excessive pornographic drawings. In most of the second volume it took away from the story and the revelations that were occurring in the characters. By the third volume, I was kind of bored and nearly missed the reason for them sharing the stories. Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s story had fantastic allusions and very creative takes on the traditional stories, but the story frequently seemed to get lost amongst the images. I suppose that could have been intentional, but, much like Thackeray’s manipulation of the reader in Vanity Fair, I found it more annoying than anything else without the benefit of adding to the discussion.
The lack of secondary character development. Sure the story is about the women we think we know, but the authors introduce quite a number of second level characters that function solely in the background and only hint at other possible avenues of development.
The half-hearted attempts at philosophical discussions about the morality of drawn pornography. It’s not that I’m against this discussion; it’s that it felt forced in this work. It could be interesting to have drawn characters talking about the difference between fiction and reality and extending that to pornography. But it would be better for both Lost Girls and the discussion if they were separated. Then people would be less likely to divert their attention from the story or the conversation.
I can appreciate the literary qualities of the story, but overall, it’s not on my list of graphic novels/comic books to make everyone I know read. It might be because it’s pornography, and I would probably get very odd looks from most of my friends by recommending it to them. But I think that it’s because the story that I found was a challenge, and I’m not sure that I really know anyone with the time to try to sift the images to discover a story. I also wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it out of hand. My ambivalence to the story is the main reason for the 3 of 5 stars.