Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Fun Home


Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel is a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. I decided to seek it out after Audrey Niffenegger named it as her favourite graphic novel at a reading and signing a couple of weeks ago. I had read mention of it across the blogosphere prior to that but it was more a sense of it existing and being held in esteem rather than knowing anything about it. After reading it I then noticed that it was included in the family section of the Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read and am I right in thinking that it is the only graphic novel to do so? I haven't read many graphic novels myself, only a handful (although I am beginning to incorporate them more into my reading lately), but Fun Home reminded me of one that I had read: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; both are memoirs of the female authors' coming-of-age in dramatic circumstances but both are recounted with wisdom and wit.

Alison grew up in a funeral home -known as a fun home- with her mother, brothers and closeted gay father who dies when Alison is at college, perhaps by his own design. Her father was a highschool English teacher who had relations with some of his male students and with his children's babysitter. This is indeed a tragicomic tale. I pitied Alison's father but I also found his betrayal of his family and the implied betrayal of younger boys abhorrent; curiously Bechdel doesn't comment (with hindsight) on her father's actions but through the book comes to terms with her own uneven relationship with him. Alison and her father connected via books and some of my favourite sections were those were literature was alluded to and employed as a means of commenting upon and making sense of Alison's upbringing and the poignant relationship with her father based on their mutual love for books. Meanwhile Alison is also coming to terms with her own lesbian sexuality and gender, often a source of contention with her father when she was younger but a subtle bond they shared as adults.



Fun Home is literally graphic in its occasional full-frontal nudity and not for readers with any qualms about forthright discussion of sex, sexuality and masturbation. Fun Home's frankness and intelligence should make it a recommended read for teenagers, especially those making sense of their own sexuality. It is also an exploration of death and grief and Bechdel uses it to come to term with her father's death and possible suicide. In appropriating her and her family's tragicomedy (which is ethically ambiguous, I feel) she produces a beautiful and touching deliberation on familial bonds and the pains of growing up. Incorporating the literature she and her father discuss and references to myth into the graphic novel imbues it with a richness that bibliophiles will adore and I found it highly interesting and educational as well as entertaining, at times morbidly so.



20 comments:

Nymeth said...

This is definitely one of my favourite graphic novels as well - I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Claire! I completely agree with you about how the openness makes it perfect for teens.

Paperback Reader said...

Ana, I love its openness and am very impressed by how great an LGBT text this is for younger readers.

This is definitely a favourite and one I must own; I preferred it to Persepolis which I found dry in parts.

Rachel said...

Claire this looks wonderful and is definitely something I'd like to read. I've never read a graphic novel and have always been a bit dubious about them but I don't want to dismiss a whole genre and this sounds like a good way 'in'. A recommendation from Audrey Niffenegger no less also encourages me to read it!

Thomas said...

I might have to disagree with the notion that this one is good for teens. I might need to do a re-read thinking about that context. Don't get me wrong, I would have enjoyed Fun House when I was in High School, but I wasn't confused at all about being gay. I not only knew it, but had plenty of friends who knew it and other means of support.

For a young person struggling with sexuality I think that the story of the gay father (as predator) could be kind of confusing. The biggest problem growing up gay is not having adults with whom you can identify. I am not sure Bechdel's father is the healthiest of role models.

Then agin, I loved the book but I haven't read it for a while, so I might have to go back and re-read and see if I really agree with what I just wrote. How's that for wishy-washy?

Paperback Reader said...

Rachel, I think it would be a good "in" as would Persepolis, which is about growing up in Iran during the Iranian revolution. Fun Home is great because it is so literary and intertextual as well as being a compelling autobiographical graphic memoir.

Thomas, you raise a very valid point and I hadn't looked at it from that angle. I saw Bechdel herself as a positive role model juxtaposed against her father but for a confused gay teen it may indeed be thoroughly confusing and perpetuate negative stereotypes of predators. Now I am also questioning the alarming page where Alison's brother is almost abducted when he goes out alone in Bleeker St and whether Bechdel was consciously comparing that with her father's actions...

Natalie said...

i still have yet to venture into the graphic novel realm...but this sounds so good. a funeral home?!? a memoir? how can i pass it up! i'm putting it on my library list. thanks for the review--and for the motivation to FINALLY read a graphic novel.

Jenny said...

I actually thought that Bechdel underplayed the predatory way her father behaved towards his students. But I agree that this was a remarkable graphic novel memoir.

verity said...

I agree with what Rachel said about having never read a graphic novel but not wishing to dismiss the whole genre. I should find out where they are shelved in the library. This one does sound especially interesting.

farmlanebooks said...

I'm really pleased that you enjoyed this one. I liked it much better than Persepolis, which I found to be more informative than entertaining.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Natalie, thanks for commenting. I'm very pleased that I could motivate you to read a graphic novel! This is a little like the TV show Six Feet Under although darker.

Jenny, I thought it was underplayed too; I wrote in my review that I found it curious that Bechdel didn't make any comment about it/pass judgement but instead laid the facts as they were.

Verity, I would advise you to have a stab at the genre (with your quick reading you'd read this in half an hour!) The visual alternative is refreshing.

Jackie, you were fairly sure that I would enjoy this and you were right. It's completely my cup of tea. Persepolis was wonderfully informative but occasionally it was too much, at the expense of enjoyment.

Karen said...

This one sounds really interesting - possibly confronting and challenging but sometimes that's what I'm in the mood for in my reading. I'm not hugely into reading graphic novels - have only read one in the past and have started Persepolis but must admit haven't finished it as yet...

Paperback Reader said...

Sometimes I am in the mood for confronting and challenging too, Karen, and this met that criteria whilst also being interesting and even fun despite the dark subject matter.

Darlene said...

Since acquiring a whole bank of shelving for graphic novels at my library, I've noticed quite an increase in teenage customers. I've read a couple and loved them, Im off to check our collection to see if we have this one. We have the Rainbow collection, titles that would be of interest to gay and lesbian youth, it may be in there. If it's not, perhaps it should be.

Paperback Reader said...

Darlene, if you've loved other graphic novels then I would definitely encourage you to seek out this one. Bechdel's also famous for her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For which may be in the Rainbow collection (love that name and initiative!) Thomas' comment is causing me to reevaluate whether it should be recommended with reservation.

Darlene said...

Gotcha! Thanks for that Claire.

Marie said...

Great review. It raises some tough issues. I'm not sure I agree with it being appropriate for teens, due to the sexual content which is pretty graphic; the Boston Public Library has it in its Adult section and I think that's probably right. Librarians would get a lot of flak for putting this in YA, IMO.

Paperback Reader said...

You're probably right, Marie. It certainly wasn't in the YA section of my library.

Kailana said...

I am so out of touch with this book. I liked it, but I didn't love it nearly as much as others!

Marie said...

Paperback, which is not to say that I would object to giving it to the *right* teen in private life. And I'd let my kids (if I had them) read anything they wanted. I did, and look how I turned out- LOL!

Paperback Reader said...

Kailana, I don't always love things as others have; literature and reading is completely subjective and it's one of the many wonderful things about it.

Marie, I feel similarly and would present this to any teens in my life. I doubt I will have children but if I did I would raise them around books the way I was, by allowing them the freedom to read what they wanted.