Saturday, 17 October 2009

The Three Incestuous Sisters

At the Audrey Niffenegger event earlier this week, she answered the question of what her favourite graphic novel was with Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I have read about Fun Home on a couple of occasions across the blogosphere and was excited to discover that my library had it in stock; however, when I went to borrow it, I couldn't find it, but I found The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger instead.

Although shelved in the graphic novels section, The Three Incestuous Sisters isn't actually a graphic novel. On the front cover, the sticker proclaims it a "Novel in Pictures" (that would be a picture-book, yes?) but in her afterword Audrey Niffenegger coins the term visual novel, to differentiate her book from a graphic novel. She does this because her book does not consist of graphic images but aquatints. Another description to the coffee-table art is "labor of love" because it took her fourteen years to produce as she did it all by hand (even designing and binding the book before modern printing technology published in in mass quantities). During those fourteen years she also wrote her first "real" (her word) novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, which was originally a project and outlet that she indulged in whilst procrastinating over The Three Incestuous Sisters.

Not so much a novel -the story doesn't flow- but a storyboard with etched images across from one line of text, almost a heading or description of action to accompany the aquatint i.e. beside this image are simply:

The Naming of things:

The text in this image is unclear but it was by far the most detailed and one of my favourites. As you can see the images are quite dark (literally and figuratively) and are bold and striking in their lack of too many colours; the colours that do stand out are those of the three sisters' hair:

Clothilde with red hair, Ophile with blue, and Bettine with blond hair, all of them with hair down to their buttocks.

The story is dark and are more linked images strung together. There is a fairytale element to them and I wonder whether the storyboard would work better -or in addition- as a film. Audrey Niffenegger explains this work to people unfamiliar with it as similar to "a silent film made from Japanese prints, a melodrama of sibling rivalry, a silent opera that features women with very long hair and a flying green boy."

I don't pretend to understand its meaning or be struck by its brevity but I appreciate the aesthetic, the beauty and starkness of the aquatints and those will remain with me even if the words do not.


verity said...

That sounds really interesting Claire. Did she mention it at her talk?

I've not read a single graphic novel, but I loved the film Persepolis and mentioned that to a student borrowing Waltz with Bashir yesterday and he has offered to lend me a couple of graphic novels.

Paperback Reader said...

A couple of times; there were a couple of fans of it who asked questions and I remember her saying that it took her fourteen years to produce.

I've read Persepolis but still haven't seen the film (nor Waltz with Bashir yet). I plan to incorporate some more graphic novels into my reading, starting with Maus by Art Spiegelman, and I will hunt down Fun Home in the library.

Anonymous said...

Curious, the images look quite beautiful!

Paperback Reader said...

Polly, it is a beautiful book. Also curious.

farmlanebooks said...

I really wanted to get this book after her talk too! I am sad to hear that it isn't really a graphic novel. I'm not a big art fan, so I think I will find it quite disappointing. I'll try to see if the library has a copy though.

I really hope you find Fun Home soon. I have just started Persepolis and it reminds me of Fun Home a lot (although I think Persepolis is going to get a lot darker soon!)

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, I think you may be disappointed but it's a very quick read and worth a look if your library has it.

I enjoyed Persepolis a lot so it's good to hear that you are finding similarities between it and Fun Home - here's hoping I can find it next time!

Thomas said...

These are beautiful images. I especially like the second to the last one.

I have Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I think as far as graphic novels go I think it is probably better on the narrative side than on the graphic side. But I liked it a lot. Back in the late 80s I met Bechdel when I was in college in Minneapolis. I walked up to her to tell her I was a big fan of her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. She was very nice and gracious. Soon after I think she moved to Maine.

Paperback Reader said...

Thomas, I like that one too! The hair colours pop with the background colour and dress colour the same (it's very well done).

How great that you managed to meet and speak to Alison Bechdel. I have Dykes to Watch Out For on my wishlist and will read Fun Home before the year is out. Great to hear another recommendation!

Madeleine said...

I read this book a few years ago in hardback version. The pictures where definitely clearer and more defined than in the softback version. Not as dark.

I enjoyed it for hat it is.

I can't wait to read her new book

Have a nice Sunday

Paperback Reader said...

Madeleine, it was the hardback that I read but it may be a different edition; the background colours were definitely muted in this.

I enjoyed it for what it was too.

Enjoy Her Fearful Symmetry when you read it and the remainder of your weekend.