Back in April, when I was in London for the first time in over a decade, I had old haunts to visit and new places to check out but limited time. However, I made sure to prioritize the wonderful shop Gosh! Comics. It's a fantastic comics store that only fed my growing interest in the genre.
I picked up only a few books (primarily because I already had a haul to carry home), one of which was Becoming Unbecoming. I'd never heard of the author (which wasn't surprising, given my limited experience in the genre so far), and I chose it exclusively based on the illustrations. I hadn't a clue as to what it was about, other than it clearly seemed woman-oriented, and was happy to begin the journey blind to the content.
Woman-oriented was along the right lines, though I didn't know at the time that it was an understatement.
Una is the pen name of an artist who grew up in Yorkshire, England. She was just entering her adolescence at the same time Peter Sutcliffe - the Yorkshire Ripper - began preying on the minor girls and women in her county.
Una's first sexual experience was being raped at ten years old by a man in her neighborhood in 1975, the same year as Sutcliffe's first reported attack. Her references to the first crimes against her are oblique but at some point, whether this first one or later, she was certainly raped and I dislike the use of the term sexual assault in references other than legal, as I feel it can mitigate what has happened to victims.
Una was a victim for all the subsequent years, into adulthood. In an attempt to control everything that was happening to her, she would have sex with boys and men who wanted to have sex with her, whether she was truly interested or not, rather than have the situation descend into violence. Her behavior, both sexually and emotionally acting out due to the circumstances, immediately got her labeled a slut and a troublemaker.
At the same time, Sutcliffe's victims were piling up, and the discussions and culture surrounding his victims and their behavior only enflamed the misogynistic and violent standards being stacked up against Una.
It feels almost like a lazy cheat to point out that Una's memoir and discussions regarding rape culture, still-existing societal standards as to what constitutes a well-behaved girl or woman, general misogyny, and male-on-female violence has great magnitude and pertinence right now. But just in case you'd failed to notice, there you have it.
The styles of illustration vary throughout the pages, intimating emotions and conflict and confusion within their lines. I loved the illustrations. It's a difficult book - particularly when I suspect I should be reading more escapism at the moment - and I had to leave it and return when I felt stronger. There were some nights I simply couldn't bear to pick it up. However, I am very pleased that I did finish - this memoir is one of my favourites books of the year. It's perfectly balanced between Una's own experiences and those of the community and other victims around her. This book isn't for the legions of fans of Sutcliffe (oh dear god, WHY?) ; his actions are addressed as the base abhorrent violence they were and nothing more. Una's focus in that regard is on his victims and their lives, an element illustrated to perfection in the final pages.