Review: The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman (Square Peg)

The House that Groaned

Literary graphic novels feel pretty rare. I could be wrong as they are outside my radar or more exactly they fall between my main interest in novels and the cursory eye I keep on comics. And I have seen a two graphic novels from mainstream (eg non-comic publishers) in the last year one based on a fantasy novel and one with a fish man, which still fall into ‘genre’ so would have a more identifiable audience.

I’d venture that The House That Groaned hasn’t got a readymade market but will find fans with literary readers and those that love graphic novels but want something that isn’t superheroes and spandex will definitely enjoy it.

It arrived in the morning and I’d read it by the afternoon. Reading comics isn’t something that takes hours but it surprised me as I had other things I should have been doing. So what engaged me?

The world that Karrie Fransman managed to create in 141 Rottin Road.

Visually apart from the yellow lights in the windows on the front cover the rest of the book is black, white with various shades of blue. The style is comic art. Each panel bring it alive as they should but the panels are more than functionary as there is something magical about it.

Not only is there magic in the art but in the story itself. It definitely dips it toe into magical realism, which is quite odd for a story involving the six occupants of house converted to flats. I initially thought it would played ‘straighter’ than it eventually was. But it’s surreal blending of reality with the imaginary is what makes it so absorbing a read.

Barbara moves in to 141 Rottin Road, which is anything but the thick-walled apartment she was told, and allows us to use her as an introduction to the other residents, who are, if I’m being honest, more than a little odd.

And Fransman seems to have great fun playing on their oddities. Though they aren’t so odd to unrealistic. The woman that runs a fat club but really just wants to eat, the man whose only means of sexual excitement is extreme looking women, and then there is the neighbour across the landing…

Even though it revolves around 141 Rottin Road we occasionally leave its walls to see key defining moments in the characters lives (Fransman even includes the building’s life in those flashbacks). And I think that’s the most fascinating aspect; what made them into the strange people that they are?

And that element makes it quite dark. The fact that these people have been so twisted by those key moments and how that has had what we might see as a negative affect on their lives. It’s also a very fun and playful story both in terms of visuals and storytelling like the hall literally filling up with people for the diet class and the a very glutenous food eating scene.

The House That Groaned is the type of story that graphic novels are made for. Visually compelling and narratively complex. It’s also a book that challenges the conventions and expectations of what the medium can do.

Can we have more books like this? Please!

The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman
Published by Square Peg
On sale now

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