With a Man Booker listing and frank coming-of-age memoirs, it’s been a vintage year
The presence of a graphic novel on the Man Booker longlist for the first time was welcome news this year, partly because it chips away at genre assumptions, but mostly because the book in question was very good indeed. Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina (Granta) explores the shock, grief and conspiracy theories that swirl around a young woman’s disappearance. That it tackles big issues – fake news, happiness and the state of America – may have helped to hook the judges. But what stays with the reader is Drnaso’s eerie portrait of the rituals of everyday life, the muted colours of his simple panels building into a suburban epic in which dark themes rear up, like some great Lovecraftian beast, and break through modern life’s banal surface.
And Sabrina was just the tip of the iceberg in a fine year for the graphic novel. In the wonderful Heimat (Particular), ancestral guilt prompts German-American Nora Krug to dig deep into her family history. Was her grandfather a Nazi, or a hero who hid a Jewish friend from party thugs? What if he was both? Her journey takes her to southern Germany, via black-and-white photos, handwritten notes and official documents. It’s a fascinating account that’s doubly effective because it’s so fraught and honest – you feel as though you’re in the room with Krug as she turns the pages of files about collusion or looks into the eyes of a relative.
Jason Lutes goes back a couple of decades further in his Weimar Republic trilogy, Berlin, which reaches its conclusion with City of Light (Drawn & Quarterly). Lutes covers the cabaret scene, the struggles of the press and riots as the Nazis rise, and lives that seemed full of possibility are twisted by the grasping arms of the state. There are plenty of rich contrasts here, from the Tintin- ish scenes of rough-and-tumble street life to the great boulevards and art deco lines of the city. With its final, show-stopping panels, the Berlin trilogy feels like a modern classic.
Neither of these fine works will have the impact of a journal written by a young Jewish girl almost 80 years ago. Anne Frank’s diaries are skilfully distilled, with moving and thoughtful illustrations, by David A detail from by Nick Hayes
The Drunken Sailor