Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Ethel and Ernest

Ethel and Ernest. Raymond Briggs. 1998. 104 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Monday 1928. Tuesday. Wednesday. Ethel! For heaven's sake! Where ARE you? Coming Madam. Thursday. ETHEL! Friday. Saturday. How about coming to the pictures with me?

Premise/plot: Ethel and Ernest is a biographical graphic novel based on the author's own parents. It begins with their courtship in 1928 and ends with their deaths in 1971. Their courtship serves as a prologue. The novel is then broken down into decades: 1930 to 1940, 1940 to 1950, 1950 to 1960, 1960 to 1970, 1970 to 1971.
It is set in London, for the most part, with brief interludes in the countryside.

My thoughts: I recently watched the film adaptation of Ethel and Ernest. It was LOVELY, absolutely lovely. The film was intense and sweet. I don't mean just intensely sweet. It was dramatic but not melodramatic--at least not most of the time. When it ventured there--it was for humor. The book is essentially the same as the film. The film kept to the novel almost word for word most of the time with a few teeny-tiny changes here and there.

Ethel marries late in life--mid-thirties--and she desperately wants a child. You can feel her heartache as she cries out her frustration to her husband. You can feel her joy when she tells him her happy news a couple of scenes later. You can feel his heartache a couple of minutes later when the doctor tells him that that baby had better be the last--Ethel almost didn't make it. (Of course, a few minutes screen time can cover months--if not years.)

One of the melodramatic moments is when Ethel is having a hysterical fit after having her son's hair cut for the first time. It is something that doesn't become FUNNY funny until later in the film--the book. She's broken down when he's a toddler when he's given a short haircut, his curls are GONE. As he grow up--particularly as a teen boy and a young adult, she breaks down multiple times because of his long hair. She wants him to get a hair cut; she wants to see him with short, neat hair. She's always, always, always pushing a comb at him.

Providing drama for two sections of the novel at least are European tensions, the threat of war, and WAR itself. Ethel isn't one for paying attention to world politics UNTIL it invades her home. When the call to evacuate the children of London comes--it hits her hard. It hits both of them hard. One mustn't think that because Ernest doesn't cry--blubber like Ethel, if you will--that he doesn't feel things. Raymond goes off to the country. And the two are left behind with their world literally exploding around them.

The book doesn't just celebrate the BIG moments of life, but the little, everyday ordinary moments of life. The moments that you hardly think worth noting, worth appreciating. It is also great at capturing the little gestures of life. The little things Ernest does for Ethel and Ethel does for Ernest. The little things that glue this couple together in good times and bad. I think it is realistic in that aspect. Neither Ethel or Ernest are perfectly-perfect saints without any quirks or flaws. Ethel is Ethel; Ernest is Ernest; they grow together.

Though it's written by the son, I think he truly tries to keep the point of view of his parents.

The ending--particularly in the film watching it the first time--is crushing emotionally. Not because it's about manipulation but because it's honest and raw.

I think it would be fitting to end with the lyrics of Is It Already Time? I am familiar with the George Strait version. It was written by Aaron Gayle Barker.
The years have been so good to you and I my friend
They brought us to the Autumn wind and left the tears behind
And who'd have dreamed that love could grow so endlessly
And you'd have meant so much to me, is it already time?
And I will always love you so
We'll hold each other close until it's time to go
And we believed we had forever on our side
Is it already time?
And I will always love you so
We'll hold each other close until it's time to go
And we believed we had forever on our side
Is it already time?
And we believed we had forever on our side
Is it already time?

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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