Ethel & Ernest is the story of the parents of author and illustrator, Raymond Briggs. The subtitle of Ethel & Ernest is, ‘A True Story.’
Ethel & Ernest is a graphic novel. The story starts with Ethel working as a lady’s maid, when she looks out of a window as a cheeky fellow rides past on a bicycle and waves to her. A few days later he comes to the door and asks Ethel out to the movies.
Sometime after, Ethel takes Ernest home to meet her family, and eventually they get married, buy a house and have a baby, Raymond. The story follows the family chronologically through war time and peace, and finishes in the early 1970’s.
Ethel and Ernest disagree over their politics, as Ethel has pretensions of middle class, while Ernest is a socialist. Having the phone connected frightens Ethel and purchasing a fridge and eventually a television are major family milestones. Young Raymond getting into art school is a major disappointment to his parents, who wanted their son to get a “nice job in an office”.
The story of this family’s lives sound horribly bald put into words, but these comic strip characters are so real that I laughed and cried when I read this for the first time ten years ago, and again more recently.
This is a quick read, but a lovely tribute to the author’s parents. I can thoroughly recommend Ethel & Ernest for anyone who feels as if they want to read something simple which will remind them of what it is to be human.