Review: Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a HalfAs one of the few remaining people on the internet who isn’t all that enamoured of webcomics, I was a latecomer to the Allie Brosh fanwagon, because I was under the mistaken impression that Hyperbole and a Half was one. And then someone pestered me to stop making my Oh No Not Another One face and actually go read it, at which point I realised that a) they’re more like illustrated essays, and b) they’re brilliant, insightful, and blisteringly funny.

It’s not easy to be consistently funny. I’m currently marathoning through a show made by one of the world’s best stand-up comedians, and for every moment in which he’s breathtakingly hilarious, there are more in which he’s just good, or sometimes merely weird and awkward. Admittedly, as an audience, I’m a tough nut to crack. But it’s even harder, a lot harder, to be genuinely funny about serious and deep issues, the kind of issues that people are generally a bit too mortified to crack jokes about, and yet which can be rendered more approachable by humour. Allie Brosh has both of those talents.

I received this collection as a gift from my family after using one of Brosh’s pieces, Depression: Part Two — which is in here along with the corresponding first part — as a way of explaining what it’s like to live with that kind of illness from the perspective of a sufferer. I use that essay to explain myself to people a lot, because it’s simultaneously better at summarising the actual experience of it, not just the external effects, than any other material I’ve found, while injecting just the right amount of humour to lift the dialogue out of the awkwardness that usually surrounds discussions of any long-term illness, but especially ones pertaining to mental health.

Her self-examination is unflinching, whether it’s on the experience of, or beginnings of recovery from, depression, to the questions of identity that a lot of us struggle with and/or sweep under the carpet: What makes a good person? Does intent matter when considering an act of altruism, or even just the decision to refrain from harm? Where does each of us really lie in the gap between what our inner narrative tells us we are and what we present to the outside world? Personally I try to be a believer in the philosophy that thoughts, often being involuntary, do not matter; that only actions, which are chosen, do. But when your little inner psychopath is busy constructing elaborate revenge fantasies — possibly involving fire and blood — against your ex, your employer, the person who cut you off in traffic, or the parent who decided that a classy alcohol-serving restaurant was the correct place to bring a screaming toddler, you sometimes have to wonder whether other people are as twisted on the inside, or whether you’re the lone sinner in a flock of saints. The mirror Allie Brosh holds up may or may not help you smile at your reflection, but it will certainly help you laugh at it.

Although her introspective essays are my favourites, everything from her childhood memories (which are a brilliant reminder of the easily-forgotten fact of just how weird we all are as kids) to the stories of her adorably deranged dogs (if we didn’t live on different continents, I’d think we adopted our animals from the same funny farm) are side-splitting, perfectly illustrated, and understatedly poignant.

I can’t talk about an illustrated collection without taking a moment to appreciate the illustrations, especially as they are such an intrinsic part of her humour. When I first saw them, I didn’t initially appreciate how much they contribute to her work. The style is simple, but not simplistic — she can capture so much in a facial expression, even the dogs’. That moment in Depression: Part Two where she’s sitting and hating all life? I am pretty sure that’s the exact expression I have on my face whenever a well-intentioned hippy feels the need to tell me that I could cure my rheumatoid arthritis by drinking honey and cinnamon and that antidepressants are all a Big Pharma hoax to stop us from realising that all we need is yoga.

If you are a human being, you will probably get a good laugh out of this book. Several of them, in fact. If you are a weird human being, or related to one, well, this is just the book that keeps on giving. My only disappointment is that the alot didn’t make it in. Now he’s sad alot.

5 stars

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