Saturday, 9 May 2009

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

I'm a longstanding fan of Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For, and a regular reader of her blog. I'd been meaning to read this for ages, and finally treated myself to a copy from Amazon Marketplace. Needless to say, when it arrived I gulped it down in a matter of hours.

Fun Home (the title is derived from the family abbreviation for Funeral Home, Bechdel's father being a part-time funeral director as well as an English teacher) is a memoir, examining Bechdel's childhood and adolescence and in particular her relationship with her father, who died when Bechdel was 19. Bechdel presents his death first as a suicide, then as an accident, and the evidence for either is inconclusive. His death follows swiftly after Alison comes out to her parents as lesbian; before he dies, she learns from her mother that her father has had affairs from men. The memoir, then, deals lucidly with issues of sexuality, of what might be viewed as her father's expression of a gay persona through gardening and obsessive interior design, and with her father's (and her own) relationships with literature, especially the works of Proust, Joyce and F Scott Fitzgerald.

In a fairly short book, Bechdel achieves an astonishing compression of detail, complex ideas, doubt and family history. This is supported by the wonderful drawings, which fill in the backstory and the period detail, but cannot be separated from the narrative itself. This is a rich, satisfying first read and I can see it's going to be an addictive re-read, as the detail will yield new rewards each time. I think I'm about to spend an Amazon voucher on Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.

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