Tuesday 3 March 2009

Fun Home - Alison Bechdel

I really enjoyed reading this graphic novel memoir. It seems like the only form where I find memoirs entertaining is this. But while I was swept away emotionally by Persepolis, here my appreciation has been more of the intellectual kind.
I can't say how many times I had to write down words I didn't know, to be looked up later, because it would be embarrassing. But it gives you an idea of the richness of the language.

It's a deeply honest, witty and insightful exploration of of the author's complex relationship with her father, of how it shaped her whole being from her early age till her father's sudden death, and how it continues to make her reflect on her personality in relation to his. It's also a very intimate account of her personal sexual awakening, which reaches its peak the moment she realises she is a lesbian. This epiphany is also the trigger to another revelation, which will make her reconsider all her life

I felt like this memoir was a necessity, something it needed to be done, for Alison Bechdel to connect all the dots, to forgive and understand, and to record how her family's life was shaped by a long series of literary allusions, from The Addams Family to The Great Gatsby, from Proust to Joyce.

I can relate on many levels with Bechdel. I too had to grow up with a father whose personality was (and is) bigger than life. He too has molded my early literary loves, and it's him I see in my earliest and most vivid childhood memories, more than anyone else, even more than my mum. He was very controlling and probably depressed too. Although, fortunately, I didn't develop any obsessive-compulsive disorder because of that, as far as I know.
I also related to her freshman year in college, where she was astonished by the need of every English lecturers to find hidden symbols and metaphors in literary works. I laughed my socks off when she mentioned Heart of Darkness's gender interpretation (Congo = vagina, Marlowe's boat= penis), because that was exactly what my first English class in college was about! But I was intrigued by all these new layers of meanings, while Bechdel's reaction was more like "why can't we just read the books?".
As I mentioned, this book is packed with literary references, but what it really made me want to go and read is Homer, both the Iliad and the Odissey. I'm not sure I'm ready for Proust yet and I will probably never be ready for Ulysses.

The art was great. It's detailed, expressive and just perfect to balance the complexity of the text. It has very strong lines which work very well with the gray-green watercolours. As Bechdel said "(this colour) has a bleak, elegiac quality" which suits the tone of the book.

I'd love to re-read it one day, and maybe in Italian to capture all the nuances of the language and of some turn of phrases that I'm sure have eluded me!

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Ana S. said...

I know just what you mean about getting the feeling that this book was necessary for her.

As for Ulysses, you and me both, my friend :P

Suzanne said...

I love your review of this book. I haven't read it but it makes me want to go out and find it fast. I'm also participating in the New Classics Challenge. I've just finished The Liar's Club, another memoir.

I love you reader's rights. I always feel I have to explain myself if I don't finish a book. I need to have this list rights posted in my house!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I just added this one to my Amazon wishlist yesterday, but you've got me wanting to order it now! Interesting how rich the language was...just something I wouldn't have expected from graphic novels. I'm loving the constant discoveries I'm making with this genre, though! So glad you loved this one!!

Jill said...

This one went on my list after I read Nymeth's review (nothing new there), but now I see I really need to bump it up closer to the top! I had to laugh about the literary symbols! I'm looking forward to it even more now.

Alix said...

It sounds very interesting, I've yet to read a graphic novel of any kind but this sounds like it might be a good start.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Iliad but I'm with you on Ulysses :)