ELit Book Tip: Dominique Goblets Graphic Novel “Pretending is Lying” by Chrisitan Gaase

In Pretending is Lying the Belgian comic artist Dominique Goblet illustrates the abysses of her childhood and comes up with some striking images.

For twenty years, the Belgian comic artist (b. 1967) has been acclaimed as one of the most important comic book illustrators. In her comics, drawings and paintings, she includes snippets and fragments of intensely personal themes with her graphic and uncompromising content created from a resolutely feminine standpoint. The French edition of Pretending is Lying was published in 2007 and was praised as a milestone of comic-book autobiography. It has now been released in German and English.

Pretending is Lying begins with Dominique Goblet’s visit to her father. She has not seen him for four years and plans to introduce him to her daughter, Nikita. The father – supposedly a reformed alcoholic who left his wife and child – turns out to be a whining, aggressive and miserable character: he plays the victim; he overwhelms his daughter with criticisms and doesn’t acknowledge his granddaughter.

This disturbing encounter motivates Dominique Goblet to begin her analysis of her childhood. Her relationship with her mother also appears difficult: her mentally unstable mother lavishes stifling affection on her daughter, only cruelly to mistreat her the next moment – for example, for no good reason she locked young Dominique in the dark attic.

While Dominique Goblet confronts the abysses of her childhood, she falls in love. With her new husband by her side, everything becomes wonderful, or so she thinks. Until she notices that he is constantly betraying her with his ex-partner.

Existential quicksand

There are many stories to fill the150 pages – and for a moment, the reader has the impression that Goblet wants to do too much, thus losing focus. Yet, in Pretending is Lying one realizes that she touches on what she never experienced as a child and still hasn’t found in her adult life: emotional stability, unconditional affection, trust and security. At the same time, she naturally wonders whether she is in the position to give her daughter Nikita this emotional security.

Goblet tentatively moves forward on this existential quicksand and finds the right pictures for this: pencil and ink lend her illustrations the look-and-feel of sketches – they are fragmentary, open and multi-layered, blurred and grimy. Often, there are even visible traces of overworking and corrections. Childhood drawings stand alongside expressionist nightmares, raw collages next to compositions of unprecedented intensity; metaphors and abstractions expand reality, and even the text becomes an image to illustrate the inner life of the speakers.

The work on Pretending is Lying was no linear process. Overall, Dominique Goblet worked twelve years on her autobiographical narrative. She repeatedly rejected entire chapters. On several occasions, she started afresh; she tried and tested other approaches, until she found the right form for this analysis. She succeeded: “Pretending is Lying” is a story of profound intensity and touching intimacy.

By Christian Gasser

Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright

Dominique Goblet: “Faire semblant, c’est mentir” (150 pages, L’Association, Paris, 2007)

Dominique Goblet: “Pretending is Lying” (New York Review Comics; New York, 2017)

This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe website on 6 September 2017.

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