The House That Groaned

I bought this crazy graphic novel from a small independent bookshop in Cardiff, read it on the train home, thought about it for days, and forgot to write a review. D’oh.

housethatgroaned3 Synopsis

A young woman moves into the empty flat in an old, strange townhouse. Its inhabitants include a man who photoshops pictures of women and is therefore unable to find real women attractive (until he sees the new resident), a man who is only attracted to those close to death/ the very sick, a middle aged woman/skinny-obsessive who runs a weight loss group from her living room, a morbidly obese woman who runs continual food-orgies, and an old lady who quite literally fades into the background. Over the course of the graphic novel we learn how this strange collection of people ended up sharing this house, their sometimes devastating pasts.

Things I liked

House-Groaned-(1) So very many things. Before I get into the specifics, I want to talk quite generally about this book because I don’t think I’ll be able to do it justice. It’s all at once funny, poignant, intimate, thought-provoking, engaging, original, and well-constructed. I feel absolutely confident recommending it to anyone, as long as I don’t think the subject matter will hit home anywhere too painful. There is something for everyone in this book, whether it is the retrospective, reflective structure, the particular sadnesses and stories of the characters themselves, or just the physical book itself. I’ve included a picture of the cover with the very front panel peeled away, which reveals the individual rooms you can see through the ‘windows’ when it is all closed. The art itself is peculiar and unique, it took me a while to get used to the way the faces were drawn, but once I was accustomed I loved it.

Specific things I liked

The art style (as mentioned above): the colour scheme, which remains the same throughout, the way of drawing the faces with prominent round cheeks. The cartoony style accompanying the sometimes dark subject matter gives at once a sense of the absurdity of everyday life and the assumptions we make about people without knowing anything about their pasts, as well as giving an unreal quality to the mostly ordinary (I hesitate to use the word mundane) events that take place. It also especially brings out those moments that are slightly outside the realms of reality – nothing that happens in this book is supernatural or impossible, but it certainly feels it at times. I don’t feel I’ve explained this particularly well… let me know if this makes sense.

The collection of characters who live in the house. I went into some detail above about the characters themselves so I won’t linger too long on this. There’s something about this selection of people that works so perfectly, in my opinion: they are at once zany and messed up enough to make it interesting, and normal enough to make them realistic and make the setting work. Except one…

The reflective and individual chapter structure, in which we meet the characters separately, see them go about their daily lives and have run-ins with each other, then we are shown their lives before the House. We get to form and re-form our opinions of the characters. It makes them feel infinitely more real, and so intimately connects the reader with the goings-on in the House. Wonderful technique.

I could go on and on…but I don’t want to ruin it.

Things I didn’t like

I loved this book. Loved loved loved it. You may have noticed, if you’ve read some of my other reviews, I usually only have one, maybe two, bad things to say about the books I write about. Honestly, if I finish it and want to write about it, it usually means I liked it and want to spread the love. Unless I had a reaction filled with violent hatred – can’t wait for my first angry review…

Here’s my one criticism: there was a slight cop out in the ending. It didn’t necessarily affect my love of the book, as it was not because of the plot particularly that I enjoyed it so much, but I will always call books on their cop out endings. Likewise films.

F***ing One Day, man. Cop out cop out cop out.

Should I read this?

Yes. It may look bulky, but I read all of it on the train between Cardiff and Bristol (for those of you who don’t make that journey as often as I have, it’s less than an hour).

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here.

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.


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