Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

FunhomecoverPhew, just in time with this blog post. In the midst of my last two pieces of coursework as an undergrad I didn’t think I would get a book read this week. Luckily, in a surge of motivation, I started reading Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home last night (side note – this is the Alison Bechdel of the Bechdel test: to pass the Bechdel test a film – but this works for books too in my opinion – has to have at least two named female characters, and they have to have a conversation, and it has to be not about men. Interesting how many fail this test. Anyway). I came to this through a few different avenues – first and foremost, through the musical adaptation (not unlike my last blog post…I doubt this will be a recurring theme, but you never know). The graphic novel was also recommended by my favourite BookTuber, so how could I resist?

Plus, a book that has gained the reputation ‘literary graphic novel’ during assessment time? Well, it’s practically revision at that stage.

Synopsis

The first chapter sets us up for the entire book, which is written completely out of chronological order. We learn that the narrator, Alison, is the oldest of three children, grew up in a funeral home – or ‘fun home’, geddit? – that she came out as a lesbian to her parents while she was at college and shortly thereafter her father (a closeted homosexual) killed himself. The story flits around her childhood and college experiences in a way that is very easy to follow.

Things I liked

Let’s get right into this. The literary references – OH DEAR GOD. There are so many, it’s almost over-the-top, but it’s amazing. I’ll see how many I can remember off the top of my head:

  • James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • James Joyce’s Ulysses (but not til the end)
  • Daedalus and Icarus
  • Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
  • The Odyssey
  • Colette (autobiography)
  • Virginia Woolf (several)
  • E.M. Forster’s Maurice
  • J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – specifically The Great Gatsby but the father is obsessed with him
  • Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

Oh my. It’s so nice to see all of those in one place. Especially because most of it is the last century which is sort of MY THING right now if anyone was unaware.

The style of the art. The colour scheme is only white, black, and a watercolour bluey-turquoisey-greeny. It’s easy to adjust to; it’s very difficult to get lost between panels even if, like me, you’re not a graphic novel veteran. The line art itself is also approachable, not too polished but certainly not amateurish.

The narrative tone. Love that voice. It’s authentic, self-deprecating, honest, witty (I wrote funny here at first, but that doesn’t get across the intelligence you can feel when you read it, intelligence born of experience and not just book-learning). Brilliant.

The story. It’s sad, it’s complex, it’s funny in a bleak kind of a way. And it’s true, so that’s interesting in and of itself.

The handling of the themes (yep, I’m a literature student). This fits under the heading of the narrative, I think, but I wanted a separate comment to say Bechdel’s authenticity in talking about her own sexual development and realisations, her relationship to her father and her thoughts about their connection – in sexuality, in secrets, the fact that he killed himself so soon after she came out – and the implicit (and sometimes more than implicit) paedophilic relationships her father had with 17-year old boys. Also the handling of collegiate feminism I found interesting.

There are so many things I liked, I don’t want to ramble on too much. It was a pleasure to read, and so quick – it took maybe two hours, two and a half at most.

Things I didn’t like

Nothing. I have no criticisms of this. Flicking through it from the outside it doesn’t look as though it’s going to be as fantastic as it is. Due to the colour scheme mentioned above (which I did like overall), the tone of the book looks a bit bleak. Which, admittedly, it is. A bit. I don’t know how I would change this, but I put off reading this for a long while because the colour scheme was on the depressing side.

Should I read this book?

Damn right you should. So interesting in terms of family dynamics, LGBTQ questions, even the stuff in the background about Nixon is pretty interesting as a backdrop. Plus, something that greatly appeals to me, it delves into the question of how literature can shape the way you understand yourself and your family.

So, yes. Go get it, go read it, go recommend it to your friends. This needs to be spread around.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Fun-Home-Alison-Bechdel/9780618871711/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

 

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