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Ethel & Ernest: A True Story

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Raymond Briggs

Beautifully rendered full-color drawings and a candid, evocative text capture the entertaining and poignant story of the author's parents, from their first encounter in 1928 London, through their marriage and the rapidly shifting modern world, to their … see full wiki

Author: Raymond Briggs
Genre: Biography & Autobiography
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Date Published: October 01, 2001
1 review about Ethel & Ernest: A True Story

Raymond Briggs, Professional Tear-jerker

  • Oct 17, 2001
  • by
Pros: It's a lovely book.

Cons: It's only one book.

The Bottom Line: A stunning, touching work of art and literature.

You, young Yank, probably know Raymond Briggs as the illustrator of 'The Snowman,' the now very-thoroughly-marketed, wordless tale of a boy whose snowman comes to life. (Suitable for all ages, an excellent holiday gift...) You should also know him for 'When the Wind Blows,' a surprisingly harsh 'folly-of-war' book eminently suited for anybody who remembers their Cold War nightmares too well, but no mind.

'Ethel & Ernest' is both cheering and hearbreaking. The 'true story' is that of Briggs' parents, done in what I hesitate to call 'cartoon' format -- the artwork is beautiful. I am consistently amazed at what Briggs can evoke with relatively simple art; it puts a lot of canvases hanging in galleries to shame.

The time frame -- starting in 1928 and ending in 1971 -- allows for a great deal of background, all of it seemingly subtley evoked but often more 'real' than that which is in the history books; everything from WWII to television shows up, invariably to an interesting reception on the part of the characters. 'I haven't done my hair' objects the mum when introduced to the new car.

Mum is class-conscious and somewhat deceptively daft; a political discussion goes as follows:

(Mr) Look! ... WE'll own all the coal soon. They're going to NATIONALISE it.
(Mrs) I bet we still have to pay for it.
(Mr) Well, 'course we'll have to PAY for it, you daft ha'porth!
(Mrs) So we won't OWN it, then, will we?
(Mr) (frustrated) Well, um...not exactly...but it means he profits will go to the government instead of LINING THE POCKETS OF THE BOSSES!
(Mrs) And then the Government gives the money to us?
(Mr) (shouting) NO!
(Mrs) So what's the difference then?
(Mr) (rendered speechless)

It's a deceptively simple life, thoroughly emotional and constantly changing. 'This MP's PLEADING that working class flats should be built with bathrooms' is followed, fifty-odd pages later, with a discussion on how they must be 'hip, groovy, real cool' so as to 'hang loose with the cats' and not be a 'square.' At 103 pages it is a quick read, but requires re-reading, with each one becoming longer.

A UK best-seller, listed as 'biography,' it almost seems shameful that North America doesn't have so eloquent and pretty a social history. As touching as the story is, Briggs is never mawkish, writing and drawing with what would seem to be remarkable honesty; this is not an idealised portrait. (One wonders, given the 1971 end date of the narrative and 1998 publication date, how cathartic and how difficult this might have been for its creator.)

While children and those unfamiliar with England may want for a few small words of explanation, 'Ethel & Ernest' will be enjoyed by all, whether read as a story of marriage and family, a twentieth-century history, or simply looked at for the work of art that it is. Raymond Briggs does not produce disposable books, and one can reasonably expect that this will be a lasting work of literature and art.

The reviewer apologises for wandering off into the mawkish herself, and earnestly hopes that readers will forgive this after obtaining their own copy of 'Ethel & Ernest.'


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