What to say? I have tried Sabrina. I cannot finish it, and will not. It is not so much that I don’t like graphic novels and don’t think they are literature, a graphic novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 which must be a benchmark of some sort. Art Spiegelman‘s extraordinary, graphic description of his parent’s lives in Poland and later Auschwitz during the 1930s, MAUS was for me the first graphic novel I ever bought. The visceral impact was immense and moving. No, I do like graphic novels, just not this one. Nick Drnaso doesn’t do it for me, the drawing is ironic (I assume) since it is so bad, the story difficult to follow. The basic outline being that Sabrina has disappeared, her abandoned boyfriend moves in with a friend who mainly does night work, so moments together are limited, I cannot say more because I couldn’t bear to turn another page (many of which have no words at all – as is the nature of comic-strip books).
I had better luck with From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan. What a gem!. 181 pages of spare, beautiful prose that lifts off the page like gold leaf, strong and fabulous. There are three characters: Farouk a refugee doctor who loses his family in a Mediterranean boat disaster, Lampy, who lives with his grandfather and his mother (a single parent) and John, a rich man whose past haunts him. They all end up in the same place, and the connections between them, such as they are, become clear.
The sections are written in short, but crafted sentences and the sequences are vivid and gripping. Farouk’s story could have been lifted from any daily newspaper, Lampy’s from anywhere. John’s story is mostly seen from the perspective of the past, though the reader might not realise this at the time. But the denouement is utterly brilliant and without parallel.
Finally this week, I read Snap, the second controversial novel on the longlist. Belinda Bauer‘s crime novel. Belinda Bauer is undeniably a great writer, a page turner of a book this. Hard to put down and desperately convoluted. A crime spree of unusual and spectacular success brings a homicide detective, temporarily out of favour at the top, to help with a series of damaging break-ins. Marvel is not at all happy with this situation, nor with his new colleagues, Reynolds and Parrott; but he knows that he must succeed or he will be doomed to the backwaters for ever…it is the criminal that we focus on but that would be a spoiler, so I am not going there.
If this were not a post about the Man Booker Prize, then I would be unequivocal in my praise for this novel, the best summer read one could hope for. Suspenseful, cunning and surprising. But is it literature? Does it have the heft of a great novel, the layered meanings that are revealed on a second or third reading? No, and I rather doubt whether it would even stand a second reading, honestly. But then very few crime novels, especially if the reader has a good memory, would. Which, for me, rules it out of court in this context.
My shadow book, by a writer who richly deserves better attention, is Mercury Falling by Robert Edric. Britain in 1954 was a dismal place, austerity like you cannot imagine, rationing and endless rain; winter flooding has destroyed large areas of farmland and gangs of derelict men and boys from the Borstal are engaged in the clear up. The shadow of war hangs over everything and can be used to hide a multitude of things: failures mostly. Devlin is forced out by bailiffs, owing rent and drifting from one bad situation to another in a downward spiral of increasing crime, dragging with him his past baggage which catches up every now and then with chilling effect; so he moves on in the dim hope of escaping from his past. Unsuccessfully for the most part.
I have written at length about Edric’s books. The joy is that the characters in them live on in one’s mind, you wonder what happened next and you care! He writes about many different things, different times and different people but with a careful depth, so that you end each book immersed in its period. A lovely writer.