on 17 November 2006
Alison Bechdel offers a work of rare honesty and flair. In this graphic novel autobiography, she explores the life and death of her father, and chronicles her own growing-up years within an unusual family. The Bechdels' funeral home business serves as an accidentally apt metaphor for the emotional austerity of a home where Alison's father is gay, closeted and often unhappy with himself and others; and where, seemingly unnoticed, the young Alison is growing into her own sexuality, and her identity as a lesbian.
The book interweaves incidents from family and individual lives with Alison's childhood journal entries, her father's photographs, and scenes from the books she and her father share as a form of personal communication and analysis. This scrapbook approach blends narrative and character development perfectly, and reminds us how often we are defined by, and seek to understand ourselves better through, the things we love.
I was often struck forcefully - as I rarely have been when reading autobiography - by the fact that these were real people. This immediacy seems the result of a combination of the medium and the author's decision to lay bare the most compelling and difficult questions of her own family life.
on 22 December 2006
I bought this book simply because it was by Alison Bechdel and I love her "Dykes To Watch Out For" strip. It is not like her usual work but is a powerfully moving autobiography in cartoons - the way she uses pictures and words to tell this complex story is amazing and meant that I read this much more slowly than I normally read and I immediately reread it. I really loved how she does not simply tell her story in a linear manner but comes back on it over and over again, so each time, I felt I was getting closer to the heart of the matter. I also liked how she linked her reading with what was going on for her and her father. Like the previous reviewer said, that this is a real story involving real people, was constant in my own mind as I read it, and raises a lot of questions about autobiography in general and how we remember things. Well worth a read - I can't think of anyone who would not be moved by this book.
Alison's father is a funeral director in a town so small he teaches part time to supplement his income. Both he and Alison's mother Helen are distant and emotionally unavailable leading to Alison's siblings and parents existing in the home behind the funeral home, the 'fun home' of the title in separate bubbles, like an artist's enclave. It is Alison's relationship with her father she focuses on in this brutally honest but gently wry and revelatory autobiography. He is a repressed homosexual obsessed with asthetisism, consumed with restoring their home to it's historical glory at the expense of his wife and children's own tastes and personal space. As Alison goes to college and discovers her own emerging homosexuality the truth about her father's affairs with boys comes out and she struggles with her deep love for a man unable to express affection for her. Compelling and well drawn.
on 28 March 2012
`Fun Home' is Alison Bechdel's memoirs told through a graphic novel, which was a concept that I found really intriguing. It was also one I wasn't sure would work, would I feel an emotional connection with the images in front of me, or could this read like a cartoon? I can now say that `Fun Home' is in the latter category and as I followed the fictional/illustrated/memory drawn Alison from her childhood, when after inheriting it her family all moved into the family business... a funeral home, to her dealings with the death of her father and their relationship and indeed her own sexuality, the latter she discovered interestingly through books.
It's hard to say any more on the novel than that. Though it does feel like a novel and I pondered, with all its references to Camus, Fitzgerald and other authors (who Alison's dad loved and seemed to add the personalities of to his own) if the influence and subsequent love of books gave it that extra edge? It could of course simply be that this is a blooming brilliant novel regardless of its form and that I instead shop stop the subconscious part of my brain which says `this is a graphic novel, thats not quite the same as a normal novel' and get over it. I think I have because I was read this like a novel, I didn't just sit and read it in one go, I would read a chapter here and there as usual and was thinking of it when I put it down, not as a graphic novel but just as a book I was enjoying.
It is hard to say anymore about the book really without spoilers. It has that mixture or coming of age memoir, gothic reminiscence and family tragedy and comedy that I love when I find just the right combination of. I laughed out loud but it wasn't saccharine, it was honest without being malicious or brutal, it was emotional without being woe-is-me and I liked the tone of the book. I liked Alison Bechdel and I wanted more of her story.
I used to think that graphic novels were just really big comics for grown up kids, its examples like `Fun Home' that continue to prove my wrong and show that graphic novels can offer you the full formed personality of characters and evoke their situations and the atmospheres that they are surrounded by. People are probably rolling their eyes at that but that has been the case on the whole for me until now, though other graphic novels have been good they have never felt like the give everything that a normal `book' does like `Fun Home' has.
on 8 April 2012
So far, this is the rawest and most unforgiving graphic novel memoir I have read. While it is no great shock to discover the inevitable description of male masturbation which seems to creep into an eyebrow-raising number of books by men, it is still jarring and unfamiliar to encounter female masturbation as depicted by a woman, particularly in a graphic novel. Not that the images that accompany the description are graphic or depictive of the event, but just the fact that they are there adds a depth and nuance that is unusual.
Alison Bechdel, author and blunt protagonist crosses a line in 'Fun Home'. Somehow. I couldn't tell you exactly how, but the further I read the more I could feel that she crosses the line that most graphic novelists have drawn between what is and is not discussed within their pages, and she disregards it completely. Parents friends who suggest a foursome? It is included. I hope for their sake they are oblivious to this books existence! For me, her flagrant and unabashed disregard for any sense of propriety in this book makes it all the more charming.
Whilst you are reading this book, and the diary entries from Alison's childhood pile up, you begin to get the sense that she NEEDED to write this book. It's pages seem to omit a sigh of relief. The literary references to difficult texts are nonchalantly thrown in as though everybody knows about them and has probably read them; how many of us have, truthfully, actually finished (or even started) Joyce's 'Ulysses'? Proust? I enjoyed the bits which used material I have read and know well such as Wilde and Wind in the Willows but other bits are actually fairly dull. It's definitely a 'getting it off your chest' book, unapologetically so. Alison doesn't care that many readers will not understand her references or her feelings towards her father. Only she really has to understand it and, by writing a book, she has found a way to express and release that and, perhaps, find some peace with it.
And, might I add, the cover is the most luxurious and gorgeous shade of green.
on 23 May 2008
Despite the apprehension experienced by many readers when this graphic novel was presented to the LGBT Reading Group, everybody really enjoyed it.
You discover the bones of the story early on... the Bechdel's live in the family-run funeral home in a close knit community; Alison is coming out as a lesbian; her mom wants a divorce; her father is gay.
Bruce Bechdel's life is a sham; a sensitive, creative, reserved man who, in a flash, can became cold, belligerent and driven. Shortly after he dies in mysterious circumstances Alison finds out that he's been having sex with young men and has been in trouble with the law.
The story weaves through time as Alison delves deeper and deeper into the main events of her family history to reveal a tragic yet fascinating upbringing.
Although some of the themes could be regarded as heavy, they are lifted by Alison's unique and clever style - her monochrome illustrations tell her story in a remarkable way that just words never could. It seems too simple to announce that this is a really good book, but it is!
on 2 November 2011
As Art Spiegelman proved with Maus, father memoirs can take graphic narrative form. Courageously original and lovingly honest, Fun Home is a coming of age story--a story of lesbian self-discovery--which also outs the father posthumously as a closeted gay man and a possible suicide. In intertwining her father's story with her own, Bechdel is conscious of being as ruthless as her father was in "his monomaniacal restoration of our old house." She, too, is a Daedalus, who answers "not to the laws of society, but to those of [her] craft." Profoundly personal, Fun Home is also mythic. From the opening page onward, it is a rich affirmation of Stephen Daedalus's closing words in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: "Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead." This affirmation is triumphantly validated by "the tricky reverse narration" of Fun Home's final panels, in which Bechdel's artistically resurrected, epic father is there to catch and save her child self.
on 16 June 2013
Great to read this graphic novel. A big thank-you to her. This is life stuff. Plain and simple. Though i am a bloke i got a lot from it. It shows how people try to be human set against all the unsaid laws that have been laid down over the years. i love the graphic novel when it is used this way. It highlights the writing with the art work and the art work with the writing. Best of both worlds...as for the storyline, i loved the whole reality of family life and the battles and love that went into it. Though Alison was in one way a lucky woman that the vicarious role of drama and books probably saved the whole scene developing into something that could of been far worse. A family without this might of become a very awful experience. She seemed to follow a paper trail to an understanding...great to read.
on 20 February 2016
In this graphic novel, the presence of various archives initiated by Bechdel, helps draw the readers mind in singularity with the narrator's plot. Newspapers, maps, photographs, books (literature), diary entries, dictionaries and letters are all designed to situate the narrative in accordance to Allison and her perspective of Mr. Bechdel (her father). The hand drawn maps indicate the proximity of her father's life line to his unavoidable predicaments. The map in "The wind in the willows" and the actual map of "Beech Creek" suggests that this story is almost completely based on fiction with jarring facts on the peripheries. The letters between Allison and her father also show the complex relationship they had, often tainted heavily with literary content, not ignoring the subliminal messages they both try to convey. Other examples like the frequent denotative inclusions of the dictionary "printscreen", makes the narrative contemporary because its helps readers to question their own understanding of terms and encourage us to reread such definitions.
The line between fact and fiction is often blurred, amounting to a hybrid narrative where the actual story gets written on a piece of literary work. Allison herself admits that "The line that dad drew between reality and fiction was indeed a blurry one. To understand this, one had only to enter his library" (pg.59). The reliability of Bechdel in using examples from "The Great Gatsby", "Fitzgerald" and "Ulysses" to name a few, may be problematic to readers who have not immersed in such literatures hence a gap in being in tandem with Allison's mind track. However, it does not completely discredit the stark similarities and comparisons to characters in the books mentioned, after all to understand Mr Bechdel, is to know his library. The sexual identity and gender expression of BOTH Allison and her father become center stage, and it is sort of a double thread being knitted into this tapestry of 'Identity Awakening'. Themes like suppression, secrecy, humiliation, conformity, liberation, bravery, are indeed a mirror image of the two charters- in total opposites. Ironic?
Both of them get an almost equal narrative of sexual history. I like the way Bechdel uses Allison as the "lesbian" narrator to illustrate her own sexuality and gender expression, by intersecting the life story of her father, a closet gay, with her constant cue of "disjoined love" with him. It is an interesting chart of sexual histories, sometimes breaking stereotypes and norms, but also sometimes reinforces causal theories of homosexuality- Bruce's molestation.
on 23 September 2015
The graphic novel is a genre not widely associated with serious subjects. It’s a longer comic book for readers who prefer their cartoons with hardback covers and a hefty price tag. But that presumption misses the point of the graphic novel by a long stretch, not least when it’s Alison Bechdel doing the storytelling.
Her 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home actually represents two genres, one that is not widely read and another that is growing in strength, so much so that US colleges have added it to their reading lists for liberal arts students. Fun Home attracted criticism from more conservative students, who disagree with its sexual content and imagery. The fact that colleges believe students can learn from a graphic novel—and the novel can cause such a stir—is a testament to its ingenuity.
Bechdel sees no need to tell the story of her father’s death, the emergence of her own homosexuality and everything that led up to the two in a linear fashion. Instead, she zips between her family home, the title funeral home, her college classes and trips away with her mother, father and siblings, choosing to join the chapters by her feelings towards particular situations or events rather than in any traditional sequence. The story centres around the death of Bechdel’s father and what it means to her. Bechdel’s journeys into the past reveal a father who preferred to restore houses than spend time with his daughter, and who slept with men, often his students, behind the back of his wife and family.
Fun Home delivers the tragedy in Bechdel’s life with comedic aplomb, illustrating key scenes from her childhood and adolescence in a cartoon style that harks back to the comics that came before. Particularly revealing is a snapshot of a certain letter from father to daughter, because his indecipherable handwriting means all the reader has is the narrator’s reflections. Lacking context, Bechdel’s narrator must be relied upon, and the next page reveals the last time she saw her father, in an illustration that shows them getting on as well as they can, sat next to each other playing the piano. “It was unusual, and we were close. But close enough,” remarks Bechdel’s narrator.
The strength of Fun Home is in its yearning to understand fatherhood and sexuality and everything else that goes on during the chronicled period of Bechdel’s life. Her narrator never settles on definitive conclusions—it’s not entirely clear if Bechdel’s father committed suicide or was the victim of an accident—but prefers somewhere in the middle, which is both a challenge and a joy for the reader, who too wants to understand where Bechdel’s narrator is coming from, and is likely going next.
Besides the cartoonish illustrations and dry dialogue is a narration that touches on literature of all kinds, as Bechdel likens texts and passages to points in her own time. What’s created is a flowing story that peaks and troughs and runs wild and streams slowly, as Bechdel’s narrator attempts to grow closer to her father, and if not, understand him, and failing that, hate him. When that doesn’t work, she learns to be like him. And the reader is left wondering if there was really anything wrong at all.