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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Paperback – 14 Sep 2006
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"Bulging with literary allusions from Proust to Scott Fitzgerald, Fun Home is a book that demands to be read again and again." (Royal Academy Magazine)
"It is a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions, with panels that combine the detail and technical proficiency of R. Crumb with a seriousness, emotional complexity and innovation completely its own... A comic book for lovers of words! Bechdel's rich language and precise images combine to create a lush piece of work - a memoir where concision and detail are melded for maximum, obsessive density" (New York Times)
"Bechdel's memoir offers a graphic narrative of uncommon richness, depth, literary resonance and psychological complexity . . . shares [much] in spirit with the work of Mary Karr, Tobias Wolff, and other contemporary memoirists of considerable literary accomplishement" (Kirkus Reviews)
"The recursively told story, which revisits the sites of tragic desperation again and again, hits notes that resemble Jeanette Winterson at her best... She's made a story that's quiet, dignified and not easy to put down" (Publishers Weekly)
"One of the very best graphic novels ever" (Booklist)
One of the most eagerly anticipated graphic memoirs of recent years, "Fun Home" is a darkly funny family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Alison Bechdel's sweetly gothic drawings. Like Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis", it's a story exhilaratingly suited to graphic memoir form. Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high-school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and the family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned 'fun home', as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic, and redemptive.See all Product description
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From the start there are pointers that her life is developing into a tragic tale. We are left in no doubt that her father was a complicated man with many internal torments.
The language is rich and luxurious with the great use of some unusual words (one or two even had me looking up definitions).
I've now read a few graphic books and think this book is put together brilliantly. The words and pictures both add to each other. There is great detail in the graphics as well, many of which add more to the story than the words can alone.
There is much tragedy but it is related in a blackly humorous way (man times crossing back and forward the line between comedy and tragedy).
The narrative sections break into four types: the overall story telling, dialogue in speech bubbles, occasional explanatory notes and labels highlighting an element of a drawing.
Essentially the book is about a father and daughter relationship. They struggle to come to terms with their differences whilst refusing to acknowledge their obvious similarities. Much of the commonality is around literature and the arts, leading to a few points where the author relies too heavily on literary references. However, I very much liked the reliance on the artistic talents in the family, particularly the mother's acting which allows her to step away from her real world.
What strikes me most about this book is the depth of emotion that is written into every, carefully chosen, word. It can be a cliche to say that the process of writing is cathartic but, with this book, that feels appropriate.
She was a literature student, so if you're a literature buff you will probably enjoy a lot of references that likely went straight over my head. I'm guessing there was probably a lot deeper thematic references I'm missing not actually being as well read as I'd like to be.
But even if you aren't a literary buff, it's a story that takes you on an proper journey and by the end of it my heart is with hers and I feel the beauty of the pain from which she writes, without ever screaming about. Couldn't recommend it more.
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.
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