Sunday 18 November 2012

CBR4 Book 95: "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel

Page count: 232 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: October 14th, 2012
Date finished: October 14th, 2012

Before I read Fun Home, I'd only really heard of Alison Bechdel because of the Bechdel test (which I recently discovered was actually developed by Liz Wallace, Bechdel just featured it in her comic). I also vaguely knew that she was an acclaimed comics writer and that several of her works were autobiographical.

A couple of good friends gave me the book for my birthday, and I decided that the October Read-a-thon was a good time to read it - it's always good to vary your reading material, and I discovered last time that comics are a very good thing when you're in the final hours and your brain can use pictures to help make sense of the plot.

My husband doesn't really like the term graphic novel. I agree with him for things like trade collections of things like Batman and the like, but with books like Persepolis and Fun Home, the term accurately applies, and I think the authors have chosen the medium very deliberately. The story wouldn't be the same without the visual component. In this, Bechdel chronicles a large part of her childhood and adolescence, even the time after she went to college, and especially her complex relationship with her father. Bechdel grew up in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, where her father was both the funeral director (the title refers to the nickname the family gave the funeral parlor) and an English teacher.

Bechdel's father was a cold and emotionally distant man, and completely obsessed with restoring the family's Victorian home down to the smallest detail, and the title may is likely also reflecting the less than idyllic atmosphere that Alison and her brothers experienced growing up. The stories are not told strictly chronologically, and several events and incidents are shown more than once throughout the book, as Bechdel clearly matures and discovers more about her parents and their unhappy marriage.

Bechdel's relationship with her father was not an easy one, but she acknowledges how alike they were in some respects - like with the compulsive attitudes to their art, and also in their homosexuality. The books shows Bechdel's early sexual awakening and coming out to her parents as a lesbian, then discovering that her father was a closeted homosexual who'd been having relationships with young men, many who had babysat Bechdel and her brothers over the years.

The book is very honest, and exposes her family life and personal development in a very stark and matter of fact way, and while it is clear that it wasn't always easy for her growing up with the rigid expectations of her father, the stories are also told with humour and affection, with as many fond reminiscences as there are sad and tragic parts. This was my first real exposure to Bechdel's work, but not the last. I will definitely be checking out more of her books from now on.

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