Monday, 25 June 2012
Devouring Books: Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel
So, earlier this month I raved about Fun Home, which I basically read because Bechdel had another book out (this book, in fact) and I wanted to read more graphic novel-memoir kind of things. And so, I read Are You My Mother. And... Well. It's not completely horrible, because I liked the ways in which Bechdel tried to 'adopt' certain mothers for herself, like Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, and, sort of oddly, DW Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst, whose ideas are discussed at length in this book. And... well, I like to look at the pictures and things. And stuff.
But. You know those psycho-analytical ideas that are discussed at length? I'm... I'm not entirely convinced that I even agree with a lot of them: there's a lot of talk about subconsciously remembering how you were treated as a baby, and how, since her mother got pregnant when she was about 3 months old, Bechdel felt displaced or something blah blah blah; and I'm just not sure how much I buy those kind of ideas. But I guess that what's important is that Bechdel believes that they're true, and that they help her to explore her relationship with her mother, and, well, that's fine. Except that Bechdel doesn't so much look at her relationship with her mother as looks deep inside herself, and at her ideas and how she feels about everything.
And I guess this is a memoir, so it feels like that should be fine too, except, I don't know, something about such a deep amount of self-absorption made me feel uncomfortable. There's a lot of blaming-the-mother that's so rife in psychoanalysis, and a lot of it feels unfair- from resenting her mother for having interests outside like, her and her brothers (which, I'm always going to argue, is something that a woman, looking back on it, should be able to get more of a positive message out of than still resenting it, if you know what I mean) to complaining that her and her mother don't end their phone conversations with 'I love you' at which I'm like 'Well why don't you?! You're a grown up now, you can tell your mum you love her!' A lot of it is just like, meanings she's added to things because of therapy, that might not have even bothered her without it.
I feel like, I didn't learn a lot more about Bechdel and her relationship with her mother that I didn't get from Fun Home, even though her mother's failings took a backseat to her father's in that book. If anything, she treats her mother more harshly than she treated her father, and I'm not sure how I feel about that either... It seems like her father is a lot more responsible for messing her up, and yet somehow it's her mother who gets the blame, and I don't really get it. And it's like, Bechdel relates her mother's depression after her parents died pretty soon after each other, but instead of going 'that must have been so terrible for her', she just relates it to herself and her feelings about it, and about this one time where her mum asked if she loved her and she didn't know what to say, and I'm just like dude! This wasn't about you! Stop making everything about you! Even if this is a memoir... I mean, who gets TWO memoirs?!
So, what I'm saying is, Are You My Mother made me kind of resent Bechdel even as I felt kind of sorry for her (but not sorry enough, you know?) and made me totally sceptical about psychoanalysis, especially as it doesn't really feel like it's done Bechdel much good. If she wants to see this book as expelling some of her demons and helping her to heal then, I guess that's all good, but I kind of wish I'd given it a miss. In my humble opinion, Fun Home is much better, much less irritating and distressing to read, so, you know, just go and read that and continue to like Bechdel. I'm going to block this one out and decide that I still do too.
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So I will be listening to all that said "eh, just skip this one" but this review is funny. Especially the "dude! This wasn't about you!" I'm going to check out Fun Home and just pretend this one isn't a thing.ReplyDelete
Yes! This is clearly the sensible thing to do! Fun Home is preeetty awesome, so I hope you like that anyway!Delete
WHY DON'T YOU LISTEN?ReplyDelete
This was probably worth reading on some level...at the reading, I tried to think of an un-insulting way of asking why this one kind of sucks, and I went with "Why wasn't there any psychoanalysis in Fun Home?" (answer: something along the lines of 'it didn't fit in there')
But yeah, pretty much everyone I've talked to about this one see it as too self-absorbed and enthralled with psychoanalysis. And it's so weird because Fun Home is SO GOOD, but that felt way, way more about her dad than this did about her mom. Probably because she could kind of write what she wanted about her dad and not worry about the fallout regarding her relationship with him.
I know. I SUCK.Delete
It's tricky to criticise because it's clear that psychoanalysis has helped her A LOT, but at the same time, I don't necessarily buy it, or I at least don't buy all of it. I think you're definitely right re the mum/dad thing, and by sort of talking around the issues she has with her mum, it's like she slips into the self-absorbed zone. Which probably isn't something she intended to do, but it sort of happens, and it's just like grooooan.
I'm annoyed with this book by proxy. Psychoanalysis always seems to CREATE more problems than it solves...and I had a really stormy relationship with my mom when I was growing up, but now that I'm an adult I SEE everything she had to put up with from my dad and me and my brother and how her life wasn't living up to her expectations, and I sympathize with that past version of her. I feel like that's the natural reaction, yeah? Hindsight and all that. So it would frustrate me to see a grown woman blaming her mom for all her problems when moms are people with problems of their own. This annoys me. I'm ANNOYED.ReplyDelete
I know right! And I don't know if Bechdel's like 'my mum screwed me up accidentally but I forgive her because it must have been hard for her too' or just like 'my mum is EVIL' but im totally with you cause like I have this friend ad she went to a therapist who said all her problems were there cause her mum left her with a childminder and worked and I was FURIOUS at that cause like, I feel like the benefits you get later from seein that your mum had a life beyond her children FAR outweigh the negative like, subconscious nonsense!!Delete