. . . and Another's Disdain Cressida Connolly

The Spectator, August 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

. . . and Another's Disdain Cressida Connolly


Are You My Mother?

by Alison Bechdel Cape, £16.99, pp. 286, ISBN 9780618982509 Alison Bechdel's first book, Fun Home, enjoyed great acclaim: a memoir presented in comic-strip form, it described her father's suicide and hidden homosexuality, her childhood visits to the family funeral home and Bechdel's dawning realisation of her own lesbianism. The comic book does not immediately suggest itself as the ideal format for material of such intimacy and intermittent gruesomeness, but it worked.

36 Addams subverted the misery-memoir:

Fun Home was hilarious, fascinating and very clever.

Are You My Mother? is made from less gothic material. Where its predecessor brilliantly and unexpectedly wove Proust into the narrative, the current volume quotes a lot from Virginia Woolf and Freud. It is much concerned with psychoanalysis; and the life and work of object-relations pioneer Donald Winnicott intersperses Bechdel's recollections of her own two forays into analysis. A large part of this book is taken up with drawings of herself on the couch, or puzzling over books on psychoanalysis, and each chapter begins with one of her dreams.

As is well known, someone else's dreams are only of interest during the very early stages of a love affair with that person. It is tempting, therefore, to skip the dream sequences, except that the rest of the story doesn't make much sense without them.

This makes the book heavy going until, perhaps a third of the way in, Bechdel's endearing personality and sly wit become irresistible. …

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