Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs

Usually, when someone mentions graphic novels I turn into the Wicked Librarian of the West and grumble on about how they are not "real" books, they are the Cliff Notes of pleasure reading, yada, yada...  When Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys came out in graphic novel form, you probably heard my tirade in whatever part of the world you live.  How DARE they convert classics into "funny papers"!  So look who's recommending a graphic novel now. 

I'm putting all the blame for this embarrassment on Margot at Joyfully Retired.  (If you aren't reading her blog, you really should.  Especially if you are nearing retirement, thinking of retirement, dreaming of retirement... Her photos and blogging about her travels and what she reads along the way will make you want to hurry it along.)  If she could try something new at this stage of life, I figured I could, too.  And I'm glad I did.

Ethel and Ernest is the true story of the author's parents and their life in England.  This is the perfect tale to be told in a graphic novel because the illustrations add all the detail without adding pages of descriptive text that could become boring.  And the illustrations themselves are a joy.  Beautiful colors and details truly bring the story to life.

The story begins with the couple's engagement in 1928 and follows their married life through purchasing a home, World War II, raising a child, retirement, to their deaths in 1971.  The depiction of their life during the war was especially fascinating to me.  Stories of that era from the U.S. involve many of the same situations, but not the daily up-close threats that they experienced. 

I was surprised by the amount of emotion displayed in such a brief book and with so few words:  the excitement of getting married; disbelief at the purchase of their first home; joy at the birth of their child; fear during the war years; the mix of relief and longing from sending their son to a safer location; shock at the death and destruction; joy and heartache of raising a child and watching him choose his own path; intimacy of a life-long companionship; sadness of aging and illness; and finally, grief - all told through intricate pictures and sparse words.

As in any life, there's also humor along the way.  When Ernest brings home their first refrigerator, Ethel reacts with disbelief.  When Ernest explains that they can now have ice and ice cream, she exclaims, "Ice in our drinks!  Whatever next!"  When he later comes home with a bigger surprise, their first car, she refuses to get in because she's not dressed properly and her hair isn't done.  Having two kids of college age, I got a kick out of their worries over Raymonds choice of art as a career - "He'll grow out of it and get a proper job." - and Ethel's constant concern about his 60's hairstyle - "He'll never get a proper job with hair like that." 

I can't promise that I'll be searching for more graphic novels, but perhaps I'll temper my opinion and give them another chance. 

This book fulfills entry #7 of the Take Another Chance Challenge - Break a Prejudice.


  1. Dave and MUST plan a vacation to the east or west coast to be near the ocean. You don't know how peaceful and beautiful it can be. September is the perfect month and the crowds are gone too :)

  2. How funny! I just picked up my copy of this book from the library based on Margot's review :)

    Glad you liked I have the same difficulty with graphic novels. Perhaps I can find time to read it this weekend

  3. I'm so glad you liked it. You did such a beautiful job writing this post. I agree with you on the amazing job the author did to grab at my emotions.

    And, thanks for all the nice things you said about me.

  4. Yes - I remember reading Margot's review of this one as well. I pick them up and flip through them every now and then at the book store but I haven't delved into the genre. I have been intrigued by these graphic memoirs - kind of a neat play on words now that I think of it ;0)

  5. This one's been on my wishlist for about 3 years now.