Pamflet Salon: Embroideries & Fun Home

The last meeting of the Pamflet Salon in 2010 and what fun we had! Over mulled wine, mince pies and more (I won’t reveal exactly how greedy we were) we compared and contrasted 2 graphic novels which shared many superficial similarities (pretty covers, both drawn and written by women, about families and relationships) and many more differences – Embroideries is the work of Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian writer and artist who created Persepolis, while Fun Home is by Alison Bechdel, about her discovery that her father was gay and had affairs with teenage boys, as well as her own coming out as a lesbian.

The most obvious thing the two books have in common is the incredible quality of both the words and the pictures. We agreed that it’s just not fair that some people get to be so multi talented (just like J Lo! she can sing, she can dance, she can act etc etc.)

Most of us were newcomers to the graphic novel genre and rather than finding them insubstantial, both books were actually incredibly easy and enjoyable to read (some pointed out they were far less painful to plough through than the much shorter and universally loathed Carson McCullers – ouch!) We were astonished by the skill of the drawing – how in just a few strokes of a pen or brush, they can evoke an emotion or reaction with such wit or poignancy. The illustrations add a whole extra layer to your experience (us newbies all read the words first, then looked at the pictures, while seasoned graphic novel aficionado Annabel does the opposite.) We loved the jokes and bawdiness of the Iranian gossiping ladies in Embroideries.

We also discussed our attitudes to boring or obnoxious books – do you doggedly plough through them, martyr-like, even if it takes you months to finish, or do you derive great pleasure from saying “life is too short for this crap” and hurling them violently at the wall?

Fun Home led to us talking about horror movies and how you’re not afraid of anything when you’re a kid, as well as the weirdness of families – how your own internal ‘norms’ might seem totally bizarre to the rest of the world. The central character in Fun Home (it’s the author’s memoir – I didn’t realise this until the end, as I started reading it drunk with one eye closed as that was the only way I could focus – oops) seems to equate her tomboyish style with her lesbianism and her feminism, and we wondered why this seems to be the case quite frequently? Surely all three can be mutually exclusive? That led on to a mini chat about the 2nd wave feminists and how lesbianism was a political statement – rejecting men sexually as part of your personal politics was an expression of your feminism.

I drew parallels between Fun Home and seminal coming-of-age movie My Girl – set in a funeral home, tomboyish girl gets her first period etc. This led on to a discussion of movies that make us cry (Dead Poet’s Society) and wondering what happened to our teenage crushes (apparently Robert Sean Leonard is ageing well, Ethan Hawke not so much, and Will-the-skater from Home & Away is back in the show and got fat – aaiee!) And inevitably, we ended up on Dawson’s Creek – sharing our love of brittle, bad Jen (I swear every single scene between her and her grandma made me cry), our loathing of bland, drippy Joey and lust for Pacey.

And finally, we touched on how much we loath the current crop of women’s magazines – Jen admitting that she reads her sister’s but it ‘doesn’t count’ cos she hasn’t paid for them (hmm, yeah slightly shaky moral highground there J!) and actually it’s better to have a higher class of guilty pleasure – in 2011 why not ditch your Grazias and Nows and Heats and replace them with Tatler, or The Lady? (as written for by yours truly).

And that’s that. And to all of you who have emailed asking when we’re going to have a big, public Pamflet salon, watch this space – we’re working on something for February 2011 and will update you all very soon!

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