Sunday, 29 April 2012

Graphic Novel Review: 'Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic' by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
by Alison Bechdel

Published: June 8th, 2006

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Graphic Novel/ Autobiography
Format: Paperback
Pages: 232


I know this sounds like a bit of a strange thing to care about, but I love that the cover is green. I have two green books on my shelf; this one and a book of Samuel Beckett plays. I love green! This cover is pretty and highlights the memoir aspect of the text really well. 

The artwork is simple and expressive; it is mainly done in a blue, white and black palette:

Plot Synopsis

Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. 

Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned "fun home," as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescense, the denouement is swift, graphic -- and redemptive.

My Rating:

Pocket-Size Review 
Highs: This graphic novel is a brilliant portrait of the author's complex relationship with her father, and a fascinating character portrait of her father in general, and what drives him to the acts he later commits.
Lows: The literary allusions do get a bit trying and over-complicated.


So far, this is the rawest and most unforgiving graphic novel memoir I have read. While it is no great shock to discover the inevitable description of male masturbation which seems to creep into an eyebrow-raising number of books by men, it is still jarring and unfamiliar to encounter female masturbation as depicted by a woman, particularly in a graphic novel. Not that the images that accompany the description are graphic or depictive of the event, but just the fact that they are there adds a depth and nuance that is unusual.

Alison Bechdel, author and blunt protagonist crosses a line in 'Fun Home'. Somehow. I couldn't tell you exactly how, but the further I read the more I could feel that she crosses the line that most graphic novelists have drawn between what is and is not discussed within their pages, and she disregards it completely. Parents friends who suggest a foursome? It is included. I hope for their sake they are oblivious to this books existence! For me, her flagrant and unabashed disregard for any sense of propriety in this book makes it all the more charming.

Whilst you are reading this book, and the diary entries from Alison's childhood pile up, you begin to get the sense that she NEEDED to write this book. It's pages seem to omit a sigh of relief. The literary references to difficult texts are nonchalantly thrown in as though everybody knows about them and has probably read them; how many of us have, truthfully, actually finished (or even started) Joyce's 'Ulysses'? Proust? I enjoyed the bits which used material I have read and know well such as Wilde and Wind in the Willows but other bits are actually fairly dull. It's definitely a 'getting it off your chest' book, unapologetically so. Alison doesn't care that many readers will not understand her references or her feelings towards her father. Only she really has to understand it and, by writing a book, she has found a way to express and release that and, perhaps, find some peace with it.

If you are into graphic novels, and like the graphic novel memoir format, then this is a must read. While I have liked others that I've read better, such as Maus and Persepolis, Alison Bechdel has created something very unique and raw that is a must-read for fans of the genre.  Her father is a fascinating and, at times, disturbing character, and her exploration of sexuality is unflinching. It feels very real and vital, which is something not a lot of graphic novels achieve.

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: 'Dykes to Watch Out For' by Alison Bechdel

Three Words to Describe this Book: Unflinching, Raw, Literary


  1. This sounds 100% amazing. You hit the nail on the head, I think, when you said that this book challenges nearly all of the norms of the graphic novel genre. And in my humble opinion, those are generally the books that have the most to say. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention!

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