Pros: Great artwork; funny; personal and relatable; Cameos
Cons: I wanted more story; Grammar, word placement/structure, mis-spellings can be distracting
The Bottom Line: This is a good one to get from the library. I'll be hopeful in looking for more Doucet to try...
While wandering through book review lists and websites recently I stumbled across a graphic novelist I hadn't heard of before named Julie Doucet and decided to pick up a copy of her book My New York Diary. My library didn't have the book, and while I'm friends with the graphic novel selector I was hesitant to suggest ordering this to her since I hadn't already read it or anything by the author. I decided to request the title through interlibrary loan (an easy task!) instead and thus ended up waiting a few weeks before I was able to read it.
My New York Diary begins with our protagonist and writer/illustrator Julie herself in Montreal, Quebec, Canada telling us the tale of losing her virginity. It's immediately apparent what type of humor the author possesses from her portrayal of the opening characters. After the story of her odd sexual encounter she takes us through her education at College du Vieux Montreal where she studied fine arts, gulping coffee through the classes she attended, but mostly enjoying the ones she skipped. Julie awkwardly obtains a boyfriend who she soon breaks up with, and endures a humorous but strange suicide attempt from him before stilting her journal for awhile.
A short time goes by before Julie Doucet resumes her journal and informs the reader that she's returned to Montreal only briefly to pack her things and move to New York City. Despite the two strange relationships she's had previously, she's ready to move in with a pen-pal turned boyfriend into an apartment in the city. Her journal tells us of their antics: they mostly stay indoors working on their comics (her Dirty Plotte) and doing various drugs. With the author, we endure her seizures and the mystery that surrounds them. At one point she asks her boyfriend if he thinks they could be brought on by the drugs they are doing (um, I'm sure it doesn't help!) but he thinks that's crazy. Julie's comic series is pretty successful and she gets a lot of recognition, including getting invited to plenty of parties (one is a RAW party with funny caricature-ish depictions of graphic novelists Art Spiegelman, Glenn Head, Kaz, Francoise Mouly, and Leslie Sternbergh, as well as Charles Burns, who comments that he enjoys Doucet's work). Her boyfriend, who isn't as successful begins getting jealous and later possessive and obsessive over her, securing the fact that she's become involved in yet another gone-wrong relationship.
Doucet illustrates My New York Diary with black and white drawings. The frames always seem to be cluttered with action as well as 'stuff' in an interesting way not unlike that of Charles Burns, whom Doucet admits looking up to. Doucet's drawings are fun because they're always full of things to look at and notice that sometimes make an otherwise painful scene somewhat humorous. Characters are drawn with exaggerated heads and facial features, again adding a fun and unique element of humor.
The narrative is told usually in a closed box at the top of each frame, but characters' narrative is also present. Sometimes its difficult to tell what is narrative, what is conversation, who is speaking, and what order things should be read in. Also, the author often mis-spells things and uses awkward grammar and word order. While this does seem to add a quirkiness to Julie Doucet's style it was sometimes distracting and hard to understand for me. These elements caused a little bit of difficulty for me when reading.
Julie Doucet tells her personal story successfully using both humorous and honesty. Painful moments are made bearable through the author's honest story-telling. I was really hoping, however, for more of a storyline. She tells of different things that happen, like some important parties and events that she went to, a health scare she endures, her multitude of seizures, and her visits to Montreal (where she left her former roommate in charge of her possessions) but there doesn't seem to be a real beginning, middle, climax, and end. I had to remind myself that this book comes from her journal, which makes the lack of storyline explainable and more acceptable, but I'm still just plain left wanting more backbone.
Overall I enjoyed Julie Doucet's My New York Diary. During her stint as a New Yorker, the author endures some painful and humorous moments that kept me entertained. It's great to read a graphic novel that tells the story of an author/illustrator's blossoming into a graphic novelist. That Julie is so honest and unique redeems this book from the disappointment I originally felt at the odd, stilted last page. I would suggest this book, but only to check out from a library. I will be looking for more of Doucet's work; anyone whose work is admired by Charles Burns is definitely worthy of my time, and some of her other titles (Lift Your Leg, My Fish is DeadMadame Paul Affair, and My Most Secret Desire) looked interesting and worth checking out.
***Please Note: epinions incorrectly lists the author as Juliet Doucet. It really, truly is Julie Doucet.
As I got this book for myself through interlibrary loan at my library, this is another of my own submissions to my National Library Week Write-Off. NLW is next week, folks, and this is a good opportunity to show your favorite library employees how you feel about the materials they provide for you. You can't beat the convenience or the appeal of the word "free."
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About the reviewer
Laura Elizabeth 'Anderson' Brack (laurashrti)
I'm brand new to Lunch and looking to get settled. I write on epinions.com as laurashrti, and enjoy writing product reviews. I'm a 27-year-old library employee working … more
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