fredag 18 februari 2011

Alison Bechdel: Fun Home. A Tragi-Comic

Alison Bechdel has reaped accolades left and right for "Fun Home". Well, I'll have to place myself in the less-than-auspicious company of those who disagree.

This is an autobiographical work about Bechdel growing up in the shadow of an emotionally distant, literature-reading, stickler-for-aesthetics, secretly-gay father. It's what seems a remarkably love-poor home she shares with the rest of the family; in fact, it seems downright impoverished on emotions. Comparing Bechtel's story to my own childhood, it's more or less like all emotionally charged episodes of people actually relating to each other have been edited out, if they ever even existed. The father is forever refurbishing the house – somewhat akin to what he does with the dead in his part-time job as an undertaker – or shutting himself away in a book, and his emotional austerity even seems to have affected the way Bechtel is telling her story.

And that is what ultimately make this story not for me. Bechtel's own emotionally detached storytelling, wherein she mainly just depicts a scene and then comments upon it in an almost clinical tone of voice, leaves me, in the end (and somewhat ironically), cold.

The story starts out strong, with more and more of the secrets behind the façade being first hinted at and then more and more exposed, depicting episodes building up the tension and pressure of the story – including Bechtel's own sexuality (she's a lesbian) becoming also more and more obvious and part also of the story.  But somewhere halfway through, she loses me. The narrative isn't really building to any climax or revelation – we already know just about everything we're going to learn about her relationship with her father and her sexuality, so it becomes mainly repetition of things that we have already been basically told, and there is also no real resolution to her relation to her father. Basically, her time at college becomes a bit of a "and then this happened, and then this happened, and then..." narrative.

There are a number of literary allusions used, and I've seen them mentioned in reviews as an example of the quality of the story, but to me they don't really offer all that much; they're not sufficiently advanced or original to really deepen the depiction Bechtel's situation and relationship to her father to make me a fan.

As already pointed out, I seem to be in the definitive minority on this book, so I'm perfectly happy if you prefer to check out "Fun Home" for yourself (and who knows, perhaps you'll find the somewhat detached storytelling a feature instead of a bug like I did) but I doubt I'll be returning to it. Give me Li Österberg's work any day.

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