I’m the first to admit that graphic novels are not my usual forte. I’ve read a handful – and then only because my other half necessitated that I verse myself in the works of Alan Moore. So what was it about Facts of Life which encouraged me read outside my comfort zone?
First and foremost this is a book about a woman’s choice whether or not to pursue having children after multiple miscarriages, and the journey she takes after making this decision. This subject matter is something that is incredibly pertinent to me – as a woman approaching my mid-30s (ssh!) – as although the stigma of ‘childless’ or ‘childfree’ people has perhaps lessened somewhat with my generation, there is certainly still judgement attached, especially for women. The book’s handling of this delicate subject matter is truly refreshing in that it considers both sides in a very real way – there are no easy choices – and Paula Knight, via her character Polly, very touchingly displays the responsibility and heartache of each path.
Facts of Life is, however, more than this – it is also a reflection on the evolving status of ‘family’ and in particular women’s role as mothers in contemporary society, but also throughout history. Beginning with Polly’s own childhood in 1970s and ‘80s Darlington she navigates the social construction of female identity, future and family. Despite being younger than Knight I identified with so much in her depiction of childhood and adolescence, which she handles in a deftly funny, nostalgic and moving (but decidedly un-mawkish) way.
In a world where an internet search for books on parenting or motherhood yields hundreds of thousands of results, and yet a search for childless or childfree books produces just a few hundred, Facts of Life is extremely necessary and should, I think, be compulsory reading in schools! The art work is engaging yet subtle and, despite my inexperience with the genre, I warmed immediately to the illustration style and succinct text. This book works so well as a graphic novel because the images convey the often inexpressible with a clarity and candour that text alone can’t capture.
Having only finished reading the book a few days ago, I’ve already found myself returning to it… just flipping through at first but also revisiting key passages that had caught my attention. This book may be a departure from my own reading habits but it’s powerful charm, alongside the importance of its message, guarantees it will become an instant classic with UK readers and booksellers, existing fans of graphic novels or not, as well as a very useful resource in educating both ‘adults’ and ‘kids.’ As well as tapping into a huge and evolving trend for graphic memoir and biography this book tackles some heavy and universal themes but proves an accessible and sensitive look at a much maligned topic.
Post by Rachel
(£16.99, p/b, 240pp, 9781908434524)