Book Review

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs

a book about some of the worst people in the world

I was all set to crack on here and write a diatribe about how much of a pointless book this was, how it dramatised and depicted the dull, pointless, worst, most self-destructive and least fun, least valid, least human types of people in the world, and though, yes, all of that is true, the slow melancholy of encroaching (and then encroached) death at the end of Raymond Briggs’ 1998 comic book/graphic novel memoir about his dull, small minded, empty vessel parents, kinda redeems it as a text, tho not quite, not quite.

This isn’t the raw emotional punch and potency of Briggs’ better and more famous works (The Snowman and When The Winds Blows), but it does capture something of the vast gaping hole that exists within all of us who are willing to acknowledge it; in depicting the deaths of dirt worthless pointless wasted lives, there is a certain sadness, a cathartic need to recognise that when most of us die – however soon that may be 🙏🙏🙏 – there will similarly be that sense that all this time (so much, so so so much time, life is so long, so long, too long, so much longer than it needs to be) was a collosal waste. Every moment of tedium is an act of self harm, every day spent in a place or a situation or a whatever that you take no pleasure from is a day that is worse than death, is a day that invalidates life.

Ethel and Ernest’s lives together begin in the 1920s; he is a milkman, she is a servant, they get married and live in a house together and have a child (the famous cartoonist/writer Raymond Briggs who wrote and drew The Snowman, the one with that famous song about the snowman) and they slowly watch the 20th century wash around them, pissing away the possibility of joy, being small minded conservative fucking waste of fucking spaces, little Englanders living in a little London that thankfully no longer exists, tolerant of the aristocracy and teasingly accepting of each others’ dull opinions and empty expectations… Bored by possibility, contemptuous of everything worth caring about.

One is worse than the other, but the other one tolerates that for decades which essentially forgives it which is complicity, which is acceptance and tolerance, which is the last thing these fucking English people deserve. These people were exactly the kind of people you (I) have nightmares about accidentally turning into and then you (I) realise that every day you spend going to work and being a little good good is basically doing it already. Every night you’re sober, every day you live somewhere you don’t want to be, every day you don’t have the best fucking day of your fucking life is acquiescence to misery. Is acquiescence to this fucking shit.

In the end, these sad dull losers have their sad dull deaths, and even though there’s nothing at all to mourn about these charmless people, Briggs does depict them in an evocative and powerful way – they are rounded people, and even if they are deathly dull, they are very much dull in a very real way, a very rounded way, a very real way. Rounded, real, yes. Who would want to be that?

It’s an impressive work about two very unimpressive lives, the kind of lives that don’t ordinarily get a book written about them, so Ethel & Ernest is at least – technically – interesting, even if its subjects are not.

I wouldn’t recommend it, but maybe if you don’t hate the people of little England as much as I do then maybe you might like it.

Meh. is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

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