Month: January 2015

Monthly Review – January 2015

Posted January 31, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 4 Comments

Tender is the nightIt seems 2015 is off to an incredible start; not only have I pushed myself into the world of BookTube, but my reading for January has been well above average. I set myself the goal of doing more re-reading and books in translation this year and so far I have already re-read one book and two translations. The book I re-read was been Perfume: The Story of a Murder by Patrick Süskind (I even did a video review of this novel) although I am currently half way through The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (translated by Hugh Aplin) which is also a translation. Perfume was translated into English from German by John E. Woods and I read the Russian classic The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Nicolas Pasternak Slater) at the beginning of the month as well. I am very happy with my progress so far and I hope the rest of the year is just as good.

Apart from working through my reading goals, I seem to have fallen into reading a bit of fantasy lately, after reading Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch, which is book 3 in the Peter Grant series, I immediately wanted to move onto book 4, Broken Homes (currently reading now). I also picked up Among Others which was wonderful and I loved the whole idea about reading a fantasy book about reading science fiction. I actually filmed my first video review on the book and it lead me to reserve so many more fantasy novels from the library, so there may be some more in this genre in the future.

I have also read and enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore and An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. Which makes this a pretty spectacular month, but I do worry that every book I read this year will get a four star rating on Goodreads. That could be equally a blessing and a curse, but I shall see how things go moving forward. I did also read Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer which is the final book in the Southern Reach and of course Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

As January is coming to an end I am in a weird situation where I have five books on the go at the one time. I normally read two or three books at once but I have found myself dipping in and out of books lately and this is created a larger than normal ‘currently reading’ list. This means I have got a few books on my February TBR and they are, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (translated by Jay Rubin), Deeper Water by Jessie Cole and as I mentioned before The Master and Margarita and Broken Homes. I hope your January has been just as productive as mine.

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Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Posted January 30, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic / 2 Comments

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott FitzgeraldTitle: Tender Is the Night (Goodreads)
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published: Vintage, 1933
Pages: 344
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Rosemary is a young movie scarlet on vacation in the French Rivera, with her mother. It is there that she meets the handsome psychologist Dick Diver and falls madly in love with him. The only problem is Dick is married and his wife, Nicole, a sophisticated socialite is just as lovable. While this magnetic couple draw in admirers and bask in the social spotlight, things are not as perfect as they seem. Tender is the Night is an exploration into a degenerating marriage and the differences between what people project publicly verses what is really happening under the surface.

In 1932 Zelda Fitzgerald was hospitalised for schizophrenia, although there have been huge debates since as to whether she should have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder (if it was classified back then) instead. While Zelda was being treated at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, she had a burst of creativity. Over six weeks she wrote her only novel Save Me the Waltz which was published the same year. The novel was semi-autobiographical and when F. Scott Fitzgerald read it he was furious that she shared so much of their personal life within the book. Even though Scott shares a lot of their lives in his own novels, the anger may have to do with the fact he planned to use the material for his next novel Tender is the Night. It is hard to tell how much of Scott’s novel is based on real life and how much is just written in anger towards his wife, I will have to read Save Me the Waltz to make up my own mind.

While Nicole Diver is heavily based on Zelda Fitzgerald, it is up to the reader to make up their mind about Dick and if F. Scott Fitzgerald based this character on himself. I personally think there is a lot of Scott in this character and he wants to portray himself as the handsome, intelligent husband that is devoted to his wife, looking after her through her mental illness. However this is where it gets a bit passive aggressive; Tender is the Night chronicles the downward spiral of Dick Diver’s life. As the novel progresses you begin to see just how this lifestyle and his marriage effects Dick to the point where he is nothing but a shell of his former self.

There are some interesting themes worth exploring within this novel; for me I was mostly interested in the ideas of appearance and reading about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s thoughts about being married. There is such beauty within the writing, but then there is so much sadness to be found as well. I found this to be a heart-breaking novel and the fact that this is based so much on his own marriage just makes things worse. I’m planning to read Save Me the Waltz very soon, just so I can compare the two novels.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

Posted January 28, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 6 Comments

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick SüskindTitle: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Goodreads)
Author: Patrick Süskind
Translator: John E. Woods
Published: Penguin, 1985
Pages: 263
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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At birth Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was tossed aside into a pile of fish guts in the slums of eighteenth-century Paris. His mother believed he would be a still born, just like all the others and quickly got rid of him to continue working. From birth Jean-Baptiste was a little different; born without a scent but grows into a man with an absolute sense of smell. He quickly found work as a perfumer, learning the trade. He wanted to capture the scents of the world, but more importantly the one that intoxicated him; the scent of a beautiful young virgin woman.

When first published in German in 1985, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders) was a literary sensation for author Patrick Süskind. Two years later it was translated into English by John E. Woods, who went on to win the PEN Translation Prize for his work with this book. The original cover (which sadly isn’t used now) was from the painting Nymphe et satyre by Antoine Watteau 1715-16, which in English translates to Nymphs and Satyr. The novel was the inspiration for Nirvana’s Scentless Apprentice, Rammstein’s Du riechst so gut, Red Head Girl by Air and so on.

The point I am trying to make is that this book was a huge success that went on to inspire many. This is actually a re-read for me and I first read this almost five years ago and found myself being completely captivated but the book. When I first reviewed the novel, I said that “I love an anti-hero and Jean-Baptiste Grenouille didn’t disappoint as the cold hearted, scent obsessed protagonist.” Which is true, but this time I wanted to look at the novel a little more in-depth.

Firstly, I found it interesting the way women where portrayed within this book. At birth and childhood, women are represented as carers but his mother, wet-nurses and the nuns all reject Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Then when he grew into a man, the role of the woman changed from carer to the object of desire. However, for Jean-Baptiste, the idea of acceptance by a woman remained strong throughout his life, but he remained alone, which made him feel undesirable.

I had been thinking about Perfume since first reading the novel and I came to the conclusion that scent worked as a metaphor for lust in this book. A lust that Jean-Baptiste had towards young virgins; which is so typical and boring but I was interested in the way Süskind used smell to explore this idea of lust. While this still rung true for me the second time around, I also began to look at smell as a representation for class; the higher the social standing the better you smell.

Both ideas seem to come together at the end, when Jean-Baptiste releases the fragrance everyone smells the same; become equals. When it comes to theme of lust, everyone is over come with desire and the scent makes everyone attracted to each other. No one has to feel the way Jean-Baptiste felt, rejected from birth. However this scene left me curious, if everyone becomes desirable and equal; why is everyone straight in this scene. There is no mention of any same sex coupling and I felt a little perplexed by this; it is not like everyone is straight or no mention that the scent only attracts you to the opposite sex.

It is an interesting experience re-reading a book, I don’t often do it but I am starting to see the appeal. First time around, I really focused on the plot and when I picked up Perfume again all that came flooding back which allowed me to explore themes and ideas within the book. I was able to take what I thought previously and dive deeper into the novel which I found so much more rewarding. I think I have converted myself into a re-reader; I have already started reading The Master and Margarita again.

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Posted January 24, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 22 Comments

All the Birds, Singing by Evie WyldTitle: All the Birds, Singing (Goodreads)
Author: Evie Wyld
Published: Random House, 2013
Pages: 240
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Jake Whyte lives on an old farm on a small British island, tucked away from the world with her disobedient collie named Dog. However when her flock of sheep start dying from mysterious and horrific circumstances, Jake has to engage with the rest of the island in order to find out what is happening. All the Birds, Singing is about running and hiding from the past and dealing with isolation and loneliness.

The novel is told in alternating perspectives from the protagonist. One follows everything that happens after finding one of her sheep dead from mysterious circumstances. The other works backwards from that point and explores Jake’s past and why she is running away from it. It is a unique way to tell the story but it also serves as a metaphor for the way Jack is trying to distance herself from her past. However, while reading the novel, she also realise how much the past effects and stays with her, no matter how hard she tries to escape it.

It feels like Evie Wyld has an interest in the outsider and exploring a disconnection from a place/society. There is a struggle between Jake’s need to make a connection with her need to isolate herself from the world; this is what really captivated me about this book. Wyld was born in Australia and now lives in England and I am curious if this theme is something she has struggled with herself. I have heard her first novel After the Fire, A Still Small Voice deals with similar themes but I don’t think I will know for sure until her planned graphic memoir is released later this year.

All the Birds, Singing is a beautifully lyrical and atmospheric novel that deals with some pretty heavy themes. I put this novel off for so long, mainly because it won the Miles Franklin literary award and it was getting far too much attention. However it was picked for my book club in the middle of 2014 but because I was in America while this was happening I missed the chance to read and discuss the novel. I finally decided to pick up the book and I was blown away, so much so that I am giving it away (open internationally) as part of the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop.

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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Posted January 17, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 10 Comments

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David MitchellTitle: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Goodreads)
Author: David Mitchell
Published: Sceptre, 2010
Pages: 469
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet tells the story of the Dutch East India Company’s trading post off of Nagasaki in 1977. Japan has been cut off from the rest of the world and the only outside influence was a small man-made island known as Dejima. Originally built by Portuguese traders, this island was walled off and used by the Dutch as a trading post from 1641 until 1853. This novel follows the story of Jacob de Zoet, a young clerk who has been sent to Dejima to uncover any evidence of corruption form the previous Chief Resident of this trading post.

My first attempt with David Mitchell was Cloud Atlas which probably was a terrible starting point; I had a lot of problems with the fragmented storyline. I know that Cloud Atlas was an experimental piece of post-modern fiction but for me it felt like a writing exercise to see what genres he was able to write in. With a little push, I was convinced to try The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which is a straight forward historical fiction novel that would allow me to discover Mitchell as a writer but try anything experimental again. I think if I read this book first, I would have gained an appreciation for this author and been more willing to see what he can do when he played around with genres.

This novel can be broken into two parts. The first half of the book establishes the world; we learn about the history of the Dutch East India Company, Japan and the island of Dejima. Mitchell spends a lot of time building characters and painting beautiful scenery. This is a nice slow-paced section that just explores the history and the culture clash between Japan and the Dutch; it also allows the reader to meet some of the characters. Then the book changes tone completely and everything becomes fast paced and thrilling which I won’t get into as this is where the bulk of the plot happens and I am not willing to give spoilers.

While this book does deal with the culture clash, it also looks at love and the human condition.  Jacob de Zoet falls in love with a Japanese midwife, Orito and the plot does focuses a lot around this affection. Orito was a great heroine in this book. She pushes to learn how to be a midwife, in a time and place where the term midwife would have been unheard of. She is this strong willed and intelligent woman that just stole the show for me. I did struggle a little with Jacob de Zoet, he was this incorruptible man working on a trading post full of corruption. He just felt so good and kind, almost to the point of being fake. His prudishness and piety sometimes rubbed me the wrong way; as most people know. I do like characters that are deeply flawed so Jacob came across as too perfect. Having said that, I think this (somewhat) perfect protagonist was utilised well within the novel and helped Mitchell explore the themes around the human condition.

One thing I was curious about that I felt wasn’t explored enough was the language barrier between the Japanese and the Dutch. There was a great deal of exploration with the differences in cultures and how they clashed but when it came to language it was brushed over. There is so much there that was mentioned that I wanted more information about, for example when it came to the translators. The translators had the power to translate Japanese to Dutch and the opportunities for corruption was mentioned briefly and I would have loved to see these ideas explored more.

David Mitchell seems to have a keen interest in Japanese culture and the human condition, I felt like The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was able to explore these topics far better than I think Cloud Atlas did. I am not trying to rip apart Cloud Atlas (I may re-read it one day), I just felt the emotions and character development were missing from that novel. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet has given me the confidence to try more books by David Mitchell and I am not sure what I will look at next but I am curious. If anyone wants to recommend me another Mitchell book, maybe something with a flawed character, please let me know.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Posted January 15, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo TolstoyTitle: The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Goodreads)
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translator: Nicolas Pasternak Slater
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1884
Pages: 256
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Ivan Ilych’s life revolved around his career; as a high court judge he takes his job very seriously. However after he falls off a ladder, he soon discovers that he is going to die. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a novella that deals with the meaning of life in the face of death. A masterpiece for Leo Tolstoy written after his religious conversion in the late 1870s.

Something that was fascinating about The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the drastic change in writing style when comparing it to Anna Karenina and War and Peace. I am not just referring to the length, but that does play a big part. I have read somewhere that Tolstoy intentionally made Anna Karenina and War and Peace so long because he wanted to replicate life and the journey the characters face. Allowing the reader to experience every decision and moral dilemma that the character is facing, exploring the growth or evolution of each and every person within the novels.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich takes a more focused approach, dealing with major questions revolving around the meaning of life, death and spirituality. Leo Tolstoy had a major conversion in the late 1870s and the questions in this novel were the questions he was asking himself. Whether or not Ivan Ilyich found the answers he was looking for is up to the reader but it is believed that Leo Tolstoy was still looking for the same answers well after finishing this novella.

There is a lot of pain and torment that appears in this book, which reflects the authors search for answers and that is what really stood out for me. Not only was I reading a spiritual/existential struggle of the protagonist but Tolstoy’s own feeling really came out within the pages. This is what makes this a masterpiece that explores the tortured artist in great detail. I don’t want to say much more, this is the type of book people have to read and make their own mind up about the themes presented, but it is worth reading.

Cherry Bomb by Jenny Valentish

Posted January 10, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Cherry Bomb by Jenny ValentishTitle: Cherry Bomb (Goodreads)
Author: Jenny Valentish
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2014
Pages: 384
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Nina and Rose Dall have always dreamed of being rock stars. Influenced by her aunty Alannah Dall, a pop sensation in the 1980’s, Nina along with her cousin started a punk band known as The Bain-Maries until being signed and renamed The Dolls. Cherry Bomb tells the story of The Dolls rise to fame and the wild ride they faced while navigating the Australian music scene.

Cherry Bomb is told much like a memoir, where Nina Dall is recounting the career of The Dolls. This allowed Jenny Valentish the ability to write a coming of age story that mixes a “rise to fame” journey with a social commentary of the music industry. Before writing her debut novel, Valenstish worked as a music publicist and journalist with her time spent as a columnist for NME and an editor for Triple J’s magazine Jmag. This knowledge on the music industry allowed her to write a social commentary that focuses on the way woman are treated within the industry.

I picked up this book thinking it was a contemporary and fun read, which it mainly was; I was pleasantly surprised to find the social criticism. Cherry Bomb has shades of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby throughout the novel but for the most part it felt fresh. I was particularly fascinated by the playlist in the back on the book and would love to see a Spotify (Jenny Valentish does have a Cherry Bomb playlist, but it is different to The Doll’s playlist in the back of the book) playlist just so I can list to all those songs.

While this might be something different from what I normally read, I do try to explore all kinds of literature so hopefully people aren’t too surprised to see me read this one. However I will mention that I picked up this novel because the blurbs for the book were all done by Australian musicians, instead of other authors and I thought that was a unique concept and made me feel that Jenny Valentish may have captured the music industry correctly. Cherry Bomb is an entertaining read full of sex, drugs and rock and roll and I look forward to reading Valentish’s next novel.

EDIT: The good people from Allen and Ulwin have already created the Cherry Bomb Spotify playlist.

In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Posted January 9, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

In the First Circle by Aleksandr SolzhenitsynTitle: In the First Circle (Goodreads)
Author: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Translator: Harry Willets
Published: Harper Perennial, 1968
Pages: 784
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Moscow, Christmas Eve 1949; a man makes a phone call to the American embassy to warn them about the Soviet Atom Bomb project. This call was caught on tape and quickly disconnected by The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). A brilliant mathematician named Gleb Nerzhin, was taken as a sharashka (known as zeks) prisoner and ordered to help track down the mystery caller. The zeks know that they have it better than a “regular” gulag prisoners but they are faced with the moral dilemma; to aid a political system they oppose or be transferred to the deadly labour camps.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a Russian author as well as a historian; he was also a critic of Soviet totalitarianism which found himself in prison much like Gleb Nerzhin. He was accused of anti-revolutionary propaganda under Russian SFSR Penal Code (Article 58 paragraph 10) which is a ‘catch-all’ criminal offence that could be used against anyone that might threaten the government. During the period of Stalinism, the crime of “propaganda and agitation that called to overturn or undermining of the Soviet power” jumped from a six month prison sentence to seven years of imprisonment, with possible internal exile for two to five years. On 7 July 1945, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to seven years in a labour camp for comments he made in private letters to a friend. After his sentence ended, Solzhenitsyn was then internally exiled for life at Kok-Terek, which is in the north-eastern region of Kazakhstan.

The First Circle was self-censored before Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn even attempted to get it published in 1968. Originally the book was 96 chapters long but the censorship turned the novel into 87 chapters. Some changes included the man telling another doctor to share some new medicine with the French instead of warning the Americans about the atom bomb. All mention of the Roman Catholics and religion was also removed. It wasn’t till 2009 a new English translation (not sure of the details on the Russian editions) saw the book restored and uncensored; now with the title In The First Circle.

The title alone is fascinating and it allows the reader to pick up on the whole metaphor before starting the novel. Looking at Dante’s Inferno, it is easy to find that the first circle of hell is limbo. In the epic poem Virgil introduces Dante to people like Socrates, Plato, Homer, Horace and Ovid. The time between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is often referred to as the Harrowing of Hell, in which he descended into limbo and brought salvation to the righteous. However in Dante’s Inferno this meant that Christ saved people like Noah, Moses, Abraham and King David, but a lot of the intellectuals where left. This is metaphor for the penal institutions, making reference to all the intellectuals and political thinkers arrested under Stalin’s Russia.

This novel made me feel a lot smarter than I actually am, there is a lot of information within In The First Circle however Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn presented them in accessible way. Going into the book I knew a little about Solzhenitsyn’s life and the metaphor in the title was explained in the Goodreads synopsis. So I was able to witness how everything came together without doing any research. The book sometimes goes into Russian history; I was fascinated with everything I learnt.

I have read so many books set in Cold War Russia but I don’t think there have been many actually written by a Russian. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has lead an interesting life and I am keen to read more of his novels before attempting The Gulag Archipelago, his three volume book on the history of a gulag labour camp. If you have paid attention to my best of 2014 list you would have noticed that In The First Circle did make the list. This was a wonderful book that was both thrilling and educational, I would recommend it to anyone interested in Russian history, especially the Cold War era.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Posted January 3, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 4 Comments

Jane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëTitle: Jane Eyre (Goodreads)
Author: Charlotte Brontë
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1847
Pages: 542
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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When Jane Eyre was originally published, it was called Jane Eyre: An Autobiography edited by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë’s pen-name), which in itself is a fascinating insight into this classic novel. The idea Charlotte Brontë wanted this to be viewed as an autobiography implies this is more of a social commentary more than a classic gothic novel. This is what I want to focus my review on; what did she want to say about the world when she wrote this book?

Most people know the plot of Jane Eyre, so we can skip that and go right into the analysis. Bildungsroman is the primary genre of Jane Eyre, which is basically a coming of age story that documents the psychological and moral growth of its protagonist, which is interesting because on the surface there doesn’t seem to be much growth for Jane Eyre. Apart from the class struggle; Jane Eyre was an educated orphan who always believed she was low class. She constantly discriminates against herself about her class and this ultimately allows Mr Rochester to be the dominating force he is in their relationship. However it isn’t until Jane has money and returns to find Rochester blind and cripple, that she agree to marry him; what does that say about the social balance?

Though there is a whole idea of independence that plays out within this novel as well. I never thought that Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester had any chemistry and the first proposal was forced upon her. Thankfully it was revealed that Rochester was already married and Jane got out of the position she was in. She had to learn independence and the ability to make decisions for herself. This was tested when St. John (which I discovered is meant to be pronounced together like sin-jun) asked her to marry him.

There is a strong sense of religious morality at the core of Jane Eyre, just look at when St. John proposed to Jane Eyre, it allowed her to played with the idea of a moral decision. There is also an equilibrium between moral duty and earthly happiness that comes into play in this scene. Jane sees John as a brother but he tries to pressure her by implying that it is her Christian duty to marry him and work as a missionary in India. Her refusal to marry him but still travel to India as a missionary was met with disdain. John tries to emotionally blackmail her into marriage using God’s will as ammunition, even though there is no love and would only be a marriage of convenience.

I know I may have asked a few too many questions in this review, but there are some interesting thoughts to be had about Jane Eyre. I am not going to go into how Mr Rochester is the Byronic hero, the gothic themes, or how people should view this book as a Romantic novel and not a romantic book. Personally I think there are interesting elements within this classic book but Charlotte Brontë is my least favourite of all the Brontë sisters. This is the first time reading Jane Eyre and I might read it again at some point; but I hope I offered some interesting insights into the book.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Posted January 2, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Fun Home by Alison BechdelTitle: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Goodreads)
Author: Alison Bechdel
Artist: Alison Bechdel
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006
Pages: 234
Genres: Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction
My Copy: eBook

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a graphic memoir that chronicles the childhood of Alison Bechdel, growing up in rural Pennsylvania and her complicated relationships with her father. Alison Bechdel is best known as the person whom the Bechdel test was named after. The Bechdel test is a simple method that can be used to determine if a work of fiction (or movie) is gender biased. To pass the Bechdel test there must be at least two women, who talk to each other about something other than men.

Fun Home is a non-linear account of Alison Bechdel’s childhood with a strong focus on her relationship with her father. A complex relationship, Bruce Bechdel was a funeral director and a high school English teacher. He was obsessed with restoring the family’s Victorian home and often viewed his children as free labour. He was often cold and prone to abusive rage, Alison’s relationship with her father was a difficult one. At 44, he stepped in front of a truck and was killed; while never confirmed, Alison believed her father completed suicide.

After his death, Alison discovered her father was a closeted homosexual who had sexual relationships with his students and babysitters. Alongside this, Fun Home follows Alison’s own struggle with her sexual identity,coming out to her parents before actually knowing her sexual preferences. The graphic novel centres on Alison Bechdel’s thoughts about whether her decision to come out triggered her father’s suicide.

This is a fascinating insight into the mind of Alison Bechdel, not only as a memoir but the struggles that she faced while trying to understand her own identity. Drawn in a gothic style, Bechdel uses blue shading to give her art a dramatic feel. She even uses childhood diary entries to help capture the mood and feel. The dramatic artwork and emotionally charged writing complement each other and really help drive the story.

While I enjoyed Blue is the Warmest Color more as a coming of age story and a struggle with sexuality, Fun Home still remains a wonderful graphic memoir than really packs an emotional punch. Graphic novels and memoirs often get pushed aside and disregarded as works of literature but every now and then comes a work of art that proves this idea wrong. It happened with Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; but Fun Home seemed to be the most common example that comics (I use the term comic as a catch all for graphic novels and memoirs as well) need to be taken more seriously.

I have been reading more comics of late and I have been impressed with the way art and writing can work together to tell a story. I like these graphic novels/memoirs that capture raw emotion, in the writing or art and I am trying to find more like this. While comics by Marvel and DC are a lot of fun, there are so many other works out there that explores this art from an interesting and new way. I really enjoyed Fun Home, it wasn’t a comfortable read but the experience was well worth the effort.