Blankets is a book I would never have come across if I hadn't heard it discussed and recommended on Radio 4's A Good Read (you can hear the episode in question here, UK only, I think...)
Aside from loving the work of Raymond Briggs as a child, particularly Fungus the Bogeyman and When the Wind Blows, I had never read a Graphic Novel nor had they ever appealed.
The radio discussion intrigued me though and so I found myself looking for the book in the library. Having come across a copy of the aforementioned When the Wind Blows, my vision alighted on the 582 tome that is Blankets.
Blankets isn't so much a novel as an Autobiography. The narrator is the teenage Craig Thompson, a Christian teenager struggling with juggling his faith and burgeoning sexuality.
The first chapter sets the background of his childhood in a Christian family, living in fear of his strict, disciplinarian father, sharing a room (and a bed) with his brother, making the most of his imagination to help make life bearable. In the second chapter, we meet his first love, Raina, at a Christian summer camp - and the rest of the book revolves around a two-week trip he makes to stay with her and her family. A series of flashbacks are then used to flesh out the earlier years.
The blankets of the title are a recurring theme - the blankets he shared with his brother, the blanket he receives as a gift from Raina, snowfall - and various represent protection from the outside world, a means of escape, a token of love and a blank canvas on which to make a mark... This last interpretation is the end point - the author's journey ending in the satisfaction of having related his story.
It's not, though, a conventional love story - and whilst we may be rooting for Craig and Raina, all too soon it becomes clear that their fling is just a fling. Nor is it an ideal - or idealised - story of childhood; Thompson more than hints at sexual abuse at the hands of a babysitter as a child as well as more general abuse from his father. Primarily, it is a tale of teenage angst but his faith adds an angle not often covered in such tales.
Perhaps I was particularly drawn to this due to the familiarity of the scenarios painted. Abuse aside, Blankets has a number of similarities to my own upbringing. I felt huge empathy for Thompson and the dilemmas he faced as he tried to reconcile his feelings, emotions and urges with his faith and the teachings of his church.
The book is beautifully drawn, with great use made of the flexibility of the graphic medium to explode the conventional frame-by-frame approach and allow the pictures to reflect the emotions and scope of the story. Although nearly 600 pages in length, Blankets is a quick read, but it's no less of a good read for that. I highly recommend it - and I will be reading more of Thompson's work, and more in the genre too.