Review: Eileen Gray: A House Under The Sun GN
If the general goal of a biographical graphic novel is to inform and educate on an individual's life so as to motivate a reader to discover more on their own, then I have to say this book was definitely successful in my case. If its goal was also eventually to lead me to decide that the French architect and artist Le Corbusier was a complete douche nozzle, then congratz on achieving that as well.
This nicely designed HC offers glimpses into the life of queer Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray, jumping back and forth from different periods in her life to give readers a sampling of events and attitudes focused on her modernist villa designated as E-1027. As noted in the forward, Gray herself tried to destroy most of her personal papers and records in the hopes that history would remember her only for her work. With that in mind a lot of the tone and atmosphere of this book makes a lot of sense, much to the chagrin of many negative reviews online. As a whole the book could be considered a bit bare and vague on a lot of Gray's relationships and experiences, choosing not to adhere to a more traditional linear narrative.
Instead, Zosia Dzierżawska's art acts as a dreamy recollection of memories that inform of a life lived with certain pivotal markers; particularly around the creation of E-1027 which, was created in part for her lover Jean Badovici.
E-1027 is in many ways the framework of the book, acting as sort of a window in Gray's history as well as its own. The book itself starts in 1965 as Le Corbusier essentially dies right in front of it ( Seriously trying not to take too much satisfaction in that fact, really) and then jumps to 1933 as a sort of cornerstone for the entire narrative flow. From that point we continually bounced back and forward through time.
I find it understandable that many readers may be disappointed in the work because it only briefly touches on Gray's involvement with the artistic scene of 1920's Paris and her involvement with lesbian 'Left Bank' circles.
It's so brief that a lot of the information about who she spent time with is relegated to the notes at the back of the book.
However, it does feel like a lot of readers and reviewers online allowed this sparsity to fully ruin the package for them. The trick for me though is that I kind of enjoy being given a kernel of information so that I can decide on what elements to research myself. The back of the book offers up a solid list of resources that should open a lot of doors into exactly the type of details readers may want to explore. Even just the three pages of character bios offers up an engaging launchpad of future research, so I see this all as a net positive.
Again, glimpses of a life through a dream like filter.
Knowing that Gray would prefer to be remembered primarily for her work, then it feels as if Charlotte Malterre-Barthes and Zosia Dzierżawska offered up echoes of a person through history as a compromise. In all honesty, a detail oriented reflection about the factual construction of her works may not have made for the most engaging graphic novel. If Gray's work was meant to be, "An extension of the inhabitant-their release, their emanation.", then it only follows that we may better understand the work by being informed by the artist.
Whether or not the book successfully uses elements of Gray's work as a filter to inform us of her life (and vice versa) can be debated, but at the very least it must be admitted that they've created an interest in learning more about her work.
Also, seriously, Le Corbusier can go screw himself.