Anaïs Nin: A Sea of Lies
"a vignette on a complicated life"
Not quite a biography, Leonie Bischoff's graphic novel instead offers a vignette on a complicated life. The book starts with Anais Nin's life in Paris as a young bride to a banker and covers her years there as part of a group of talented writer ex-pats, including Henry Miller and Lawrence Durell. Bischoff's focus is on Nin's sexuality, her daring and rebellion in that realm, though her writing is a constant thread.
The art mirrors the dreamy, poetic sensuality of Nin's own books, and Bischoff has created dream figures meant to speak what Nin is really feeling. The "sea of lies" seems to refer to Nin's efforts to act publicly like a proper banker's wife, while having numerous affairs and writing scandalously about women's sexual desires. As Henry Miller say, "It takes an extraordinary and daring woman to speak of sensuality and sex like you."
Nin is inspired by Miller's writing and works hard to be more than a diarist, but she's happier with her sexual adventures than her literary accomplishments. She wonders if she's ultimately "Incapable of performing the alchemy that transforms this raw material into a revelatory story?"
After dipping into psychotherapy and yet more affairs, Nin feels finally in control of her body and her desires. That strength translates into a renewed faith in her own creativity.
"I will never write like a man.
I will write like a woman.
I will express the inexpressible. Intuitions. Quiverings.
I will make of my life a masterpiece and invent a language to tell it.
I believe in my magic."
Unfortunately the reader doesn't get to see that promise fulfilled. The book doesn't end with Nin getting published or with any kind of literary recognition. Instead, the question about writing simply disappears, replaced instead by "passionate discussions about writing, art, love, and travel" with Miller and Durell. The bulk of the book depicts Nin as existing only in the way men perceive her. The ending of the story sadly echoes that.
Nin's radical claiming of her own sexuality and desires is the real story told here. And that may be enough for many readers. Those expecting more should look to Nin's own writing.