Poignant, funny, and utterly original, Ethel & Ernest is Raymond Briggs's loving depiction of his parents' lives from their chance first encounter in the 1920s until their deaths in the 1970s.
Ethel and Ernest were solid members of the English working class, part of the generation that lived through the most tumultuous years of the twentieth century. They met during the Depression--she working as a maid, he as a milkman--and we follow them as they court and marry, make a home, raise their son, and cope with the dark days of World War II. Briggs's portrayal of how his parents succeeded, or failed, in coming to terms with the events of their rapidly shifting world--the advent of radio, television, and telephones; the development of the atomic bomb; the moon landing; the social and political turmoil of the sixties--is irresistibly engaging, full of sympathy and affection, yet clear-eyed and unsentimental.
Briggs's illustrations are small masterpieces; coupled with the wonderfully candid dialogue, they evoke the exhilaration and sorrow, excitement and bewilderment, of experiencing such enormous changes. As much a social history as a personal account, Ethel & Ernest is a moving tribute to ordinary people living in an extraordinary time.
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Raymond Briggs's loving tribute to his parents has an emotional power that far exceeds its deceptively simple technique. Graphic in format, the book combines vigorous but sensitive illustrations with dialogue that cogently elucidates its characters' personalities. Milkman Ernest meets lady's maid Ethel in 1928. In short order they are married, holders of a mortgage, and parents of a boy--solid members of the English working class, aspiring to more for their son. As they experience the Depression, World War II, postwar prosperity and cultural upheaval, readers come to know them intimately. Ernest is left-wing, unashamedly proletarian, and perennially enthusiastic about the great changes modernity is bringing, from unemployment insurance to highways. Ethel is a Tory, a bit of a snob, and far more realistic about how much actual improvement they can expect and what it will cost. They worry about their adored child constantly, especially after he goes to art school. She gets sick and grows senile in 1970; he dies shortly after her in 1971. It's hard to imagine a reader who won't weep when their son looks at the pear tree in the yard of the house the couple inhabited for 41 years and says, "I grew it from a pip." Plain words and plain people strike a universal chord in this touching memoir. --Wendy SmithFrom the Back Cover:
“A best seller in Britain, this winsome little book is one family’s twentieth century, told as a comic strip that fast-forwards through the decades. Briggs’s artful rendering of his parents’ striving captures the English working class, and as the tale progresses, you find yourself slowly sucked into their daily patter, amused by their cooing voices, impressed by their bravery. At the end,you’re hardly prepared for the emotional wallop.” —Time
“In the details of Briggs’s sparkling cartoons, the characters become richly specific and endearing . . . both pathetic and heroic in the face of overwhelming events. [They are] what make you read through Ethel & Ernest over again.” —Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times
“Ethel & Ernest works brilliantly and artfully as an archetype. It is the author’s willingness to frame his love and anguish so piercingly that makes it such a singular piece of work. We should be grateful that Briggs is so brilliantly equipped to remind us of what we u sed to be, and why.” —Nick Hornby, New York Times Book Review
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