By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It’s easy to spot all the things wrong with this book — feeble comedy, politics bald enough for The Nation (actually, le Carré’s recent article about Congo in that magazine was incomparably more nuanced than this novel). But the key flaw is this: We’re way ahead of it.
Now, you can’t blame Salvo for not realizing that he’s being suckered into a nasty conspiracy; after all, he doesn’t know that he’s the hero of a John le Carré novel. But we do, and we also know that this has meant betrayal ever since sad, gray Alec Leamas came in from the cold. How could le Carré not know that we know? In The Mission Song, he betrays the First Commandment of Thrillerdom: Thou shalt not be predictable.
“Sex is the great leveler,” Pauline Kael once said, “taste the great divider.” Her words came back to me as I read Lost Girls, the critically acclaimed, unabashedly dirty three-volume graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and artist Melinda Gebbie.
Set in Austria’s posh Hotel Himmelgarten on the eve of World War I, the story charts the encounter of three female guests who, in classic Moore fashion, are famous literary characters: an aging aristocratic lesbian, Alice, of Wonderland fame; a repressed bourgeois wife, Wendy, who once hung with Peter Pan; and the horny young Kansan, Dorothy, who has come to Europe by way of Oz. Almost instantly, these three women are turning their fantasies into reality, strapping on dildos and performing cunnilingus like G spots were going out of style. As they go at it, they recount their lost girlhoods with sexualized riffs on the likes of the Red Queen (a bullying dom), Captain Hook (a perv) and the Tin Man (who teaches Dorothy the joys of anal sex). As ever, Moore puts his faith in baroque invention. Who else would stage an orgiastic rimming scene during the 1913 premiere of Le Sacre du printemps?
Much of this historical stage setting is clever filigree, and nothing more, but Lost Girls can still stake its claim as a landmark in that oddest of genres — the pornography of ideas. The novel is at once a defense of sexual fantasy in even its vilest forms (to think something, after all, is not to do it) and a celebration of female sexuality: Moore’s women lean toward eroticism and freedom, while his men head toward domination and death. He pointedly pushes beyond the narrow erotic horizons of present-day niche-porn, which lets everyone download his own particular obsession to the exclusion of all others. Lost Girls harks to the more universal erotic vision found in Sade or the X-rated movies once shown in brothels (available on DVD in The Good Old Naughty Days). Alice, Dorothy and Wendy live in a world of wide-ranging sexual possibility — cruel and kind, straight and gay, bi and bestial (horse wanking!) — and no act, however horrific, can be ruled out as carrying an erotic charge.
But pornography’s real pull lies well below the noggin, and Lost Girls is emotionally inert. Moore is usually quite brilliant at taking something two-dimensional — for instance, comic-book superheroes — and then shifting perspective to reveal unimagined depths of feeling and cultural significance. Here, unfortunately, he reverses that process. Starting with three modern fantasies whose richness has endured for over a century — Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz — he confines them to “the police state of sexual myth” (to use Nabokov’s words about Freud). Their heroines’ stories are impoverished, not enriched.
This might not matter if the book delivered the goods as smut. And here’s where taste enters in. While Gebbie is, in many ways, an accomplished artist, she has no gift for erotica. Her illustrations make people look waxy and hermetic, almost inhuman. They’re profoundly unsexy (to me, anyway). And if porn isn’t hot, who cares if it’s smart? After all, Lost Girls is being sold in a pricey special edition by Top Shelf Productions, like the tony hardcore favored by aristocrats before The Great War. For $75 you’re entitled to expect this book to get you up. Instead, the redundant shtupping got me down.
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