Monday, October 14, 2013

Delphine by Richard Sala

Originally serialized as a four-issue miniseries between 2006 and 2009, Delphine has finally been released in a collected hardcover edition by Fantagraphics Books as of January 2013. I finally got a copy at the library.

As usual, the library  description was inaccurate and described this book as a horror. Although other sources have described Sala in the past as a horror novelist, I feel this is somewhat unfitting for this title.

I found the beginning of Delphine to be humorous and lighthearted but my feelings changed towards the last two thirds of the book. What began as a simple journey to find a girl, turned into a shocking display of internal misogyny and self loathing. This adult fairy tale takes a spin on the traditional by giving us the male perspective. Unfortunately this male lacks the ability to view his love interests with sympathy, often turning to blame her for the misfortune he experiences in his quest to locate her. He reflects on a rant in which he asserts that women hold the power in the affairs of love. What bothers me isn't that he believes she is powerful, it's HOW he believes that she is powerful. As if being pigeonholed into an eternity of victim-hood can be interpreted as lazy in the affairs of love. A quote from our Mr. Charming:

"Men are supposed to be direct about these things, while women just drop hints or give certain looks that men are supposed to interpret. If you can't decipher the signs properly, if you can't read between the lines~ then you've failed. Even if you merely hesitate, due to uncertainty or tact~ you've failed." 

I suppose if this were a fairly tale set in the 1600's then maybe you could sympathize with our protagonist considering he had been fed a life-time of stories revolving around one specific gender role. Yet, this is a modern day fairy tale! This kind of BS isn't acceptable behavior/opinion. Then with the next portion of monologue, it gets worse:

"She told me she'd been with a lot of guys. That made me jealous. I know it's crazy to be jealous of ex-bfs or whatever. And women can't bear men who get caught up in that kind of self-doubt. Men are supposed to be cavalier about relationships. That apparently makes them more desirable to women."

I'm sorry, are we supposed to like this character?

While my attempt to stay impartial to the female characters of the story may not be completely successful, it still contains more effort than that of the author to remain impartial to his male protagonist. The author vilifies women just as traditional fairy tales so often have. It shoves them in the same roles letting women be nothing more than victims or villains all the while being critical of their position. At one point it is almost as if Sala tries to appeal to the female reader by insisting that Delphine is an independent lady and not a victim at all. Yet he vilifies her when she acts of her own will, insisting that she is merely toying with the young man and ultimately punishing her with rape and death.

I am reminded of the fairy tale Bluebeard in which the moral of the story urges women to "listen to your husband" rather than conveying a message to men not to "murder their wives". Heaven forbid the message be "Hey lady, you're husband is a murderer, run for your life! It was a good idea you inspected that closet!"

Although I don't think the hero or Prince Charming of any fairy tale has the best role in the story, he certainly does not have to make himself look more sympathetic by vilifying the heroine. In the end our Delphine is reduced to two things: 1) a siren because Mr. Charming felt compelled to follow her. It's her fault he fell into misfortune. 2) a victim. She is found as if asleep on a bed like so many princesses in fairy tales (But really, she's probably unconscious from being raped with a crucifix as her step-mother describes).  Like fairy tales, Delphine has a wicked step mother who is the typical looking gaunt, silhouetted witch. It's all so very fairy-tale esq.

In the end I have no idea what the author was attempting to accomplish. Was Sala trying to make us understand Mr. Charming? Was he trying to depict him to be contemptuous and unlovable? Or was he trying to make us feel pity for him rather than envying the dashing Prince Charming of fairy tales? It all leaves off on a rather sullen note with a last look at a frightening woman leading men off into the night.