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Ethel & Ernest: A True Story
1999, 104 pages
Raymond Briggs is best known on this side of the Atlantic for his wordless picture book, The Snowman. In Ethel and Ernest: a True Story, he uses his narrative art to tell the story of his parents’ life together in London, from their courtship in 1928 until their deaths in 1971.
We meet Ethel as a shy lady’s maid, when she is first courted by Ernest, a handsome young milkman. Though their lot in life is never much grander than how it began, they do manage to marry and buy a house, pinching every penny to slowly improve it. Ernest is handy with building and Ethel thrifty with curtains and covers that make the place their own. As they steadily personalize their home, their country goes through the great changes and events of the mid-20th century. Ernest is stoutly on the side of the workers while Ethel tries to rise above the things she finds to be “common.” But their differences never keep them from a contented existence – especially once their son arrives and becomes their greatest joy.
Through everyday conversation, and interspersed with the small events of daily life, we learn of the Nazi movement in Germany and the outbreak of World War II. Raymond is very young when he is evacuated to the countryside, while Ethel and Ernest live through the blitz. When he returns to London, we see him entering grammar school, and moving on to art school, while his mother fusses about his attire and hair, and his father bemoans his lack of earning power. The three lives continue to intersect, with Raymond doing his national service, and his parents adapting to rationing, modern appliances and their first automobile.
Raymond Briggs handled the deaths of his parents with care and sensitivity, giving the sense of a loving son who will miss them greatly. In missing them and bringing his talents to their story, he has created a monument to their love and their lives.
Tricia Hutchins, Library Page