Fiction

November 2018

Solid Space: Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina and Art Comics

Comics seem to find critical acclaim in the mainstream only under certain conditions. First, they must deal with bleakly mature themes. Second, they must do so in a cartoony style that belies their seriousness, to paraphrase their mainstream reviewers. (What comics style isn’t somehow cartoony?) The graphic novel section in any given bookstore thus leans towards warzone journalism, family drama and wrenching confessionals. Despite constant reminders that comics have grown up, the non-comics reading public probably picture them less as a medium fulfilling its potential, than as one held back after class and tasked with writing multiple essays on very heady topics, as punishment for earlier mischief-making. Cementing but also subverting this image is Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, which, in a first for comics, was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

Man Out of Time by Stephanie Bishop cover

Loops and Layers

Time is fluid in Stephanie Bishop’s new novel Man Out of Time, an intimate portrait of a family breaking down. The narration is split between the points of view of Stella, her mother Frances, and her father Leon. Bishop captures the fluctuations of her characters’ consciousnesses so closely that the reader experiences narrative time in loops and layers as memories are uncovered and reintegrated into her characters’ thoughts. Leon is the man ‘out of time’ as he tries to salvage the family unit; his own perception of time is distorted by mental illness; and he ultimately runs out of time to save his own life.

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

Taking Back the Island

Too Much Lip is, of course, not the first novel to include family violence or to expose its colonial roots. There are, however, risks with telling stories like these. Non-Indigenous readers could fail to recognise the strength of culture to mitigate intergenerational trauma, and not understand its roots in colonial violence and systemic racism. Some readers might see the Salters through an over-used deficit model, or believe they have the solutions to ‘fix’ Indigenous families. Instead, the Salters’ story shows how ineffective governments have been in trying to patch up the wounds of colonisation through paternalistic and draconian approaches.

A Drenched Texture

Like so many writers, I turned to this paltry profession precisely because I couldn’t handle the other, more demanding dimensions of life. As a demographic, writers struggle with what others regard as ‘reality’, and we are thereby driven to provide our own fictional supplements to the oppressive regimes of the real. For this reason, I’m generally disinclined towards anyone with a talent for fiction who is also a winner in other, realer ways. If a man is tall, handsome, and a deft hand at reality television – I ask what business he has wading into the nervous territory of writers, who have only their power to generate alternative realities to tranquilise their abnormal eccentricities.

Mrs Osmond by John Banville

The Ghostwriters of Henry James

Tales from a Master’s Notebook is an appreciation of James’s creative imagination. I mean, it is an appreciation in the strong sense in which James used that word, to denote not a languid state of passive admiration, but an active process of interpretation and production, both critical and creative, whereby the maximum value of a situation could be discovered and set forth. Appreciation in this sense is central to James’s conception of art. ‘My report of people’s experience – my report as a “story-teller” – is essentially my appreciation of it’, James wrote in the Preface to The Princess Casamassima, ‘and there is no “interest” for me in what my hero, my heroine or any one else does save through that admirable process.’