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Hyperbole And A Half (US Edition)

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Allie Brosh


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Oh, I am so in love with this cartooning!

From the stupidest dog in the world to Allie herself (who appears to be an albino fish with tiny flippers, big, bulbous eyes and a yellow head-fin) it is deceptively simple; but it is as a consequence gleeful, stoopid and expressive as hell. Which is handy, because this eye-wateringly entertaining cascade of self-mockery is all about emotions - of which Brosh has, at different times in her life, experienced both many and none whatsoever.

We'll get to those more serious sequences later, for this is also profoundly perceptive in its analysis, distillation and then communicating of the most complex, overwhelming and sometimes conflicting sensibilities.

I don't know if you were a problem child, but Allie was what you'd call challenging. No, I'm sorry: utterly exasperating. Take cake, for example: her mother baked a cake for her grandfather's birthday but made the mistake of making it in the morning, slathering it in icing and topping it off with candy figures which to Allie were toys. Toys to be played with - and eaten! Cue day-long fixation on Allie's part not for a slice of the cake but for all of it. And that girl was not without resources from emotional blackmail (ranging from tears and tantrums to full-on kimikazee) to breaking-and-entering. Her grandfather has his cake, but will he get to eat it?

It kicks off when a 27-year-old Brosh rediscovers a letter she had written, aged 10, to her 25-year-old self then buried in the garden. I don't know if this is true, but it is a good story so I believe it. Its preoccupations and priorities are hilarious and in the following order: dogs, dogs, dogs; plight of pet dog; favourite food; then are her parents still alive? More bizarrely still…

"Below the German Shepherds, I wrote the three most disturbing words in the entire letter - three words that revealed more about my tenuous grip on reality than anything else I have ever uncovered about my childhood. There, at the bottom of the letter, I had taken my crayon stub and used it to craft the following sentence: "Please write back.""

Surprisingly, she does so. Not just to her 10-year-old self, either.

"Dear two-year-old,
"Face cream is not edible - no matter how much it looks like frosting, no matter how many times you try - it's always going to be face cream, and it's never going to be frosting.
"I promise I wouldn't lie to you about this. It's honestly never going to be frosting.
"For the love of fuck, please stop. I need those organs you're ruining."

Now you begin to understand the cake issue.

As an adult Allie adopts two dogs, one after the other, and they too prove problematic. The second is as rabid about other dogs as Daffyd in Little Britain is about being "the only gay in the village". The first is merely brainless, Brosh suspects, so she sets about training it (Allie fails) then testing its IQ (dog fails). In all fairness, Allie should have probably tested her own IQ first by learning how to train a dog (she doesn't). You wait until Allie attempts to move house. Everyone fails then, the dogs setting each other off in an increasingly compounded loop of escalating noise and then a great big ball of bewilderment. Like every piece here - from the life-long repercussions of a juvenile lie told to please two preposterously competitive parents - it is an ordeal.

That each is so diverting is down not just to Brosh's timing but her natural instinct to think outside the box and present each situation from an unexpected point of view.

"If you were sitting quietly on your couch, waiting for your girlfriend to come back inside so you could finish watching your movie, and while you were waiting, someone called you up and said "I'll give you a million dollars if you can guess what's going to happen next," you absolutely would not guess "I am going to be brutally and unexpectedly attacked by a goose in my own home." Even if you had a hundred guesses, you would not guess that."

Before that paragraph, Brosh's boyfriend is seen smiling away on the couch, reading a book while waiting to resume his horror film, with the door open behind him. After that paragraph, as the goose waddles in and begins to emit its war cry, he's not looking so sure.

"But that's exactly what happened to Duncan."

All of which makes this monumentally more mirthful than some of our similarly racked, comedic sure-fire sellers like HOW TO TELL IF YOUR CAT IS PLOTTING TO KILL YOU or (actually recommended, this one) 5 VERY GOOD REASONS TO PUNCH A DOLPHIN IN THE MOUTH but, as hinted earlier, there infinitely is far more to this autobiographical tour than first meets the eye.

Although she coats it with a comedic sugar frosting which she knows from experience appeals so well, there is a deadly serious side to Allie Brosh's confessional candour, for she has endured the most crippling depression and an apathy which borders on self-destruction. The prevarication displayed during her Motivation Game may sound insane but I've been at least halfway there myself. Boy, does she get herself in a self-tortured tangle but - almost inevitably given Brosh's eye for the absurd - it is still funny.

'Depression Part One' and most emphatically 'Depression Part Two', however, are not. And if you thought John Cei Douglas' 'Living Underwater' in HOLDING PATTERNS was an eloquent expression of pressure and paralysis, Allie's analysis of the evaporation and then death of her empathy for anything around her is as thorough and comprehensible as it is halting. Her subsequent attempts to fake joy or sadness to please others results only in further alienation. As to friends' attempts to help her, their misapprehensions are eloquently explained.

"It would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge the fish are dead. Instead they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared."

"What's wrong?"
"My fish are dead."
"Don't worry! I'll help you find them! Are there any clues where they went?"
"I know where they are… the problem is that they aren't alive anymore."
"Let's keep looking! I'm sure they'll turn up somewhere!"
"No, see, that solution is for a different problem than the one I have."

This and so much more - like reaching the point where you no longer want to exist, and the problems involved in breaking that news - is a real eye-opener, and a vital contribution in helping to understand the trapped plight of others.

This book contains what may be the most unusual dedication in publishing history. Each routine's pages are colour-coded too, a bit like a catalogue - a catalogue of disasters.

'Depression Part Two' is so important that I'm giving you a live link to the full thing right here:
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