[Review] - Hyperbole And A Half, By Allie Brosh

It is the greatest accolade I feel I can give to something, if it succeeded in nearly killing me. The fantastic Gravity caused me to suffer a minor panic attack afterwards, so successful was it's depiction of the danger. And so too am I able and heartily recommend Hyperbole and a Half, which caused me nearly to hyperventilate, I was laughing so hard. That sort of laughter that is so strong and constant it is nearly silent, with only the occasional hard gasp as the body overrides the muscles and forces you to swallow a breath.

There was a particular sentence which took me the lion's share of twenty minutes to work through, each word only building on a mirth-induced fit, a rolling and relapsing kind of joy that built to a crescendo of me struggling for air, laid out physically and mentally by Brosh's straight forward, honest and hilariously flower free story telling. If you've not experienced her singular methods before, I highly suggest you familiarise yourself immediately.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that never think of birds as anything but dinosaurs.

I was introduced to Brosh's writing via her article on the mystical creature the Alot, and was immediately hooked. Her unique way of dealing with the world, and her keenly (un)honed form of memoirizing are equal parts captivating and revealing. And the more I read, and the most she posted, the more she seemed willing to reveal about herself, culminating in the now famous post detailing her struggle with depression. And then there was silence, and considering what had come before it, you couldn't help but be worried about her. Now, thankfully, she has returned, with the book she had promised us before the Dark Times, before the Empi... wait, no. Just, a while back.

Brosh has eschewed the current trend of blog-to-book adaptations, but not simply republishing in paper form what is already available online. The book is nearly evenly divided between older content, refreshed and expanded, and entirely new and exclusive stories for the book, making it a near necessity for fans of the site. Anyone who found themselves stifling laughter in their cubicle as she detailed the ordeal of her and her husband (then boyfriend)'s move to Oregon must, as a companion, read the story of how she acquired the pet she succinctly refers to as Helper Dog. The book is not simply a reminder of Brosh's talent, but a continued expression of it.

Her struggles with, and very public admissions concerning her depression, obviously changed the book, and the tone can dip towards dour occasionally. But Brosh, even at recalling her emotional lows (or rather, her lack of emotional highs and lows, as she describes it), never looses her wit. Her style isn't absurdity, and despite the name it isn't wild hyperbolic exaggeration. It is straight from the hip recall. Her stories are almost told in bullet points, in fact they are, with each blurb accompanied by one of her delightful illustrations. And, in Joe Friday-style, seems to deliver just the facts, letting the absurdity of reality deliver the humour. To my mind, the best stories in this collection are the one that opens the volume, Warning Signs, a reaction to a letter she had written to herself when she was younger, and then proceeds to write letters back to all her younger and most troublesome selves, and Dinosaur, a harrowing cautionary tale of how you should never ever let your guard down around birds, even in your previously bird free home.

There is a failure here, and thankfully it is not on Brosh's part, but on that of her publisher. By electing to print the book to the standard trade paperback size, they have severely limited the effectiveness of her illustrations. too often, and especially in the latter half of the book, did I think that the illustrations deserved more space to present themselves, rather than the scaled down and limited margins of the book. this was more noticeable in those stories adapted from the site, where the pictures had all the freedom of the browser screen and now leave far too much negative space around them on the page. I feel that the book was more deserving of a coffee table, or at least a standard graphic novel size. Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant was published in a far more acceptable format.

In closing let me say that, as someone who spent the early years of his life wanting to be an cartoonist, only to discover that, no matter how much practise or training her received, he had no artistic talents whatsoever, that Brosh should have every bit of my ire directed firmly at her. Instead, I simply bemoan the fact that I grew up in a pre-Internet world. The expression and innocent simplicity and sheer depth of storytelling she is able to convey in what appear to be crude, child-like drawings is staggering, and I wouldn't have been allowed to get away with that back in the day. Which makes me retroactively hate my art teachers all the more.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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