Miss Don't Touch Me
Miss Don't Touch Me is the story of a girl, Blanche, who works with her sister, Agatha, as a live-in maid in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century. When Blanche witnesses her sister’s murder, her world is destroyed. People think Agatha committed suicide, and nobody will believe Blanche. She goes on a mission to avenge Agatha’s death, which takes her into a realm of prostitution, murder, and deceit.
It is both hard to believe and a relief that Agatha can manage to work at a brothel and not even have to take off her clothes. She is a virgin and does not want to “sell [her] virtue” (emphasis mine). So she presents her conundrum of sorts to the madam boss, who offers her the ideal position: a “virgin of steel” dominatrix who “whips, but [is] not to be touched.”
This setup, however, reinforces the virgin/whore duality in the novel. Blanche’s virginity is the main characteristic that differentiates her from every other woman from this point forward, something that even induces hatred toward her from some of the “whores.” One of them even cuts off Blanche’s long dark hair in her sleep, thickening the line that separates them. Blanche only gets along with the two other “special girls” in the brothel: Annette, who looks stereotypically angelical but harbors a dark secret, and the “madame/monsieur” Miss Josephine, her gender-bending confidante and the only other prostitute in the brothel with short hair. The authors have made it clear that Blanche does not belong on the “whore” side of the dichotomy through her asexuality, her appearance, and her very name (“blanche” means “white” in French).
Does this graphic novel stretch the virgin/whore dichotomy to create a new space? What’s for sure is that Blanche is gutsy, clever, cunning, and even cruel. She’s good-looking enough to be a prostitute but has chosen another route. She’s also goal-driven and steadfast. But, her character is not very believable. Not only is her character an amalgam of her aforementioned traits; there are also problems in the narrative that affect her credibility as a character.
The novel reads quickly, and it is enjoyable. But something feels amiss throughout. The authors at times skip from one crucial scene to the next. For example, when Blanche's sister Agatha is murdered, Blanche's life suddenly changes drastically. Blanche, naturally, cries over her dead sister following her murder—and then never does it again. We aren't even told why this is; is Blanche the kind to bury her feelings? She does not seem to be that at all. What’s more, she’s impulsive precisely because she can’t seem to control them. So what gives? These missing feelings and thoughts—which are ostensibly the very engine behind the plot—make Blanche seem at times incongruous and even robotic. Something important is lacking. While she does think about Agatha and does all she can to avenge her death, Blanche lacks the corresponding depth. And while no other characters display notable depth either, one would think that at least the main protagonist of the novel would. Alas, this is not the case. When she sheds blood, she doesn’t even blink.
The illustrations are sketchy but defined; each character is visually unequivocal from the next. Nudity is ubiquitous, as is to be expected, as well as uninhibited, which shows in the casual lines traced by Kerascoet. There is much play between light and shadow, and although sometimes there are so many details in one panel that you must squint to find what you’re looking for, overall the drawings are sharp and witty.
In the end, this novel is a sassy and even controversial murder mystery that will entertain. It would be even more pleasing if it finished what it started.