Are you my mother? is the sequel to Bechdel’s widely acclaimed graphic novel “Fun Home” in which a deep psychoanalysis between the relationship with her father is a central theme. ‘Are you my Mother’ offers a similar peeling back of Bechdel’s “mind-psyche” where she takes us down the path of her inner thoughts (and a series of dreams) through a palette of morbid grey and cosy red illustrations. Using the same formula of literary and psychoanalytical parallels, Bechdel presents us with multi-angled insights into the relationship with her mother, dealing with abstract ideas over the true and false self, transitional objects and symbolic parallels from Virginia Woolf’s ideas on the relationship with her mother.
The problem with Are you my mother is that it often feels like Bechdel is presenting a lecture of other people’s work (she copies and pastes notes from the famous psychoanalytic theorist D.W Winnicott’s in relevance to her life and crosses his theories with Woolf’s). Whilst this unravels some interesting notions about how she has come to be her portrayal; as a neurotic, self proclaimed genius (decidedly because of the way her mother and father interacted with her whilst growing up), the book leaves the reader feeling frustrated.
There is not a great deal of plot. There is lots of theorising, interaction with her therapists and past lovers, but no gripping story – nor any solid resolution. The author suggests that her life is ‘the on going story’. But this is hardly a justification for publication.
Bechdel’s self-absorbed sequel clutches at straws, in the typical fashion a second book often does. Let’s hope this personal rant will clear the path for something a little less nauseating next time.
‘The thing is, I can’t write this book until I get her out of my head.
But the only way to get her out of my head is by writing the book!
It’s a paradox.’
Alison Bechdel is an American cartoonist originally known for the long-running comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For”. In 2006 she became a best-selling and critically acclaimed author with her graphic novel memoir “Fun Home”.
“Are you My Mother?” A Comic Drama
Published by Jonathan Cape Ltd 2012
Written and illustrated by Alison Bechdel – 286 pp. – £11.89
———————- Richard Graham