Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Jonathan Cape, paperback, 2006, graphic novel/memoir, 240 pages, kindly given to me by Sarah on The Book Barge

I do think that sometimes fate determines when you see a book. I had never heard of ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel until Rebecca Makkai recommended it when she did her Savidge Reads Grills. A mere week or so after that I was on the book barge and what did I see? Yes, ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel, and Sarah very kindly said I could have it (along with ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier – lovely stuff) in exchange for the M&S picnic I had brought. I offered to pay for these, the look I got told me it was completely out of the question. So like I said, sometimes fate seems to thrust a book in your direction. Sometimes it then takes you several months to read it but never mind.

‘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, and here I must mention ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson, where the images become fully formed and not just the illustrated escapism in front of your eyes.

I am hoping people might now give me lots of suggestions of other graphic novels in this vein that will keep proving the former graphically challenged me wrong. My co-conspirator on ‘The Readers’, Gav, has recently been saying how brilliant ‘The House That Groaned’ by Karrie Fransman is. Has anyone else read that one and can concur? Any other graphic novels I should be looking for?

20 Comments

Filed under Alison Bechdel, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

20 responses to “Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

  1. Hey Simon,
    Firstly, thanks for – as I mentioned earlier – pushing me off the fence with regards to Fun Home. You owe me a new pair of tights, though. Anyway, from our discussion on Twitter, I think you – and your followers, mayhaps – might want to check these out:

    Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (+its film adaptation, in French of course) – It’s also autobiographical, and it’s about Marjane’s childhood in Iran, her life in France and so forth. It’s a really moving piece with some utterly astounding artwork (Marjane wrote and drew it), and like Fun Home it’s more like a novel than a short collection.

    Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol – I gush all over this book (ahem). I love it. It’s more like a YA novel in graphic form, but still worth a read. Neil Gaiman endorsed it – so it’s got to be good, right? It’s about a teen girl who encounters a ghost (as not to spoil too much), but has some very interesting ideas and comments about self-image, identity, betrayal, friendship and so forth.

    Skim by Mariko Tamaki & illustrated by Jillian Tamaki- Definitely one for the LGBT folks. It’s… a little bizarre. I couldn’t quite get my head around it, but I’d recommend it because it’s got quite a good cast and some interesting themes and art. Again, this is more like a novel. Also worth checking out from Mariko Tamaki is the now out-of-print Emiko Superstar – it’s short and YA-ish, but fairly interesting.

    Finally, I *have* to take this opportunity to mention Kevin Keller. He’s the first openly-gay character in the Archie Comics franchise, and those who follow LGBT comics news will know that this year saw his marriage to his now-husband Clay. The first collection of Kevin Keller stories releases next month in hardcover. They’re traditional comics, and from a series of American Values-centric comics, but I cannot recommend checking it out enough. It’s up for a GLAAD award, I believe, and I’d urge people to buy it simply out of support.

    • Thats a great list, thank you so much Kathryn. Its interesting to see so many LGBT themed books in there, I would love a few graphic novels submitted in this years Green Carnation Prize, it would make me so chuffed. I will definitely be checking these out if the library have them.

  2. To be honest, most of the graphic novels from Random House are great. I’ve read The House That Groaned and it was a wonderful piece of fiction about loneliness and human fragility. The art is utterly superb, too. It helps that Karrie Fransman is incredibly lovely and friendly, too.

    Also worth noting are The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens, Ascent by Jed Mercurio and Wesley Robins and A Taste of Chlorine by Bastien Vivés (a personal favourite of mine).

    I do a monthly graphic novel (no superheroes*, all literary) roundup on the blog if you’re ever in need of inspiration.

    *I have nothing against Superheroes, but I shook that monkey off of my back a long time ago. They’re such a money sink!

    • Interesting you mention that you trust a publisher, I have been thinking about doing a post on that, but it might be seen as being biased.

      i defintely fancy The House That Groaned thanks to Gavin, I shall have to check out your recommendations.

      I still LOVE superhero’s, but don’t tell anyone, shhhhh.

  3. Bex

    Yes – Persepolis is brilliant!! I’m also looking for more like this as I also just read Fun Home and enjoyed it greatly.

  4. I am so glad you liked it! And — lovely news — her follow-up is out in (I think) April. It’s called ARE YOU MY MOTHER, and it tells her mother’s side of the story. Couldn’t be more excited.

    I wholeheartedly second the vote for Satrapi. You might check out Joe Sacco, who does nonfiction comics, reporting on quite disturbing things in a disarmingly personal way. I especially recommend THE FIXER, about Sarajevo. It’s in a totally different category than Bechdel, but as with her you don’t feel you’re just reading a hopped-up comic strip.

    • Thanks go to you Rebecca for recommending it to me, and for now popping by with that good news. I so want to read the new one, it also thrills me as that means she is elligable for The Green Carantion Prize – hoorah!

      The Fixer sounds good. I will check your other recommendations out asap.

  5. Joanne in Canada

    I’ve read a couple graphic novels, based on Michael Kindness’s suggestions. I highly recommend “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan. It has *no words* and is simply amazing.

    • Micheal Kindness, of course he knows his graphic novels inside out. I will have to email him for a list of recommends. Plus of course you have now double recommended them technically 🙂

  6. Another push for Persepolis and for Skim, also may I suggest Stitches by David Small. There is lots of great work being done in the “Graphic Novel” genre.

  7. I’m afraid my comment will probably be of little use to you, as most of the graphic novels and comic books that I’ve personally read are genre pieces and probably more up Gav’s street, although he’s probably read them already. But I might as well recommend them as they are brilliant.

    ‘Watchmen’ by Alan Moore is very good. It’s basically superheroes in the real world, so there’s a lot more social commentary and psychological depth than perhaps your standard superhero comic.

    ‘V For Vendetta’ is another one by Alan Moore that I’d really recommend. This one is quite interesting from an ethics point of view, as the main protagonist, V, is a terrorist against a fascist system of government.

    My final recommendation is Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ series, which are brilliant. Less cerebral than the two I’ve mentioned, but really well written characters and story-lines.

    Hope your search goes well.

    • No those recommednations are all good. I tried V for Vendetta but couldnt read it in peace to concentrate on it and had to give it back to the library. I have always wanted to try Watchmen and Sin City as graphic novels. I like Neil Gaiman too so some great recommendations from you Hayley, thanks.

      • I have yet to try Sin City myself, partly because the writer, Frank Miller, has gone a bit weird with his more recent out-put, especially in his depiction of women. Let’s just say that progress does not march on here.

  8. Persepolis, Maus, V for Vendetta, 2D Goggles (on line , see here http://sydneypadua.com/2dgoggles/ ), Tamara Drew, Habibi

    There are dozens of excellent graphic novels out there, jump in!

  9. Last Saturday I bought a book! Now that I have read it, let me recommend to you the graphic novel “Glacial Period” by Nicholas de Crecy, but let me also warn you that it’s quite quirky and you might find the “plot” rather too sparse. I loved the style and the concept though.

  10. Jen

    Thank you for recommending Fun House. I’ve never read a graphic novel I liked but I was hooked by the 2nd page. I really enjoyed her book!

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