[Review] Tortuous and unrelenting discomfort

Sabrina was murdered. Brutally. But this is not her story. It is, in fact, a story about everything but.

Sabrina was murdered. Brutally. But this is not her story. Nor is it the story of a crime investigation, a hunt for the killer, an attempt to revenge, or a perverted justice system. It is a story about everything but.

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso has been making waves in the literary world over the past few weeks and rightly so. It is the first and only graphic novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker prize. Aside from the raving reviews it has received, Sabrina opens a bevy of questions regarding our media and the distrustful and almost hurtful audience out there.

The book spans the entire spectrum of reactions to death

Most importantly though, the book is a deeply unnerving journey exploring human experiences after shocking and brutal loss. It spans the entire spectrum of reactions to death: from wild, raging grief to muted, debilitating sorrow. It slides a microscopic lens on the lives of those closest to a victim as well as allowing us a glimpse of the media mutiny, trolls and other internet specimen that contort, strip and rebuild any tragedy into a large but despairingly believable conspiracy.

In the book, Sabrina’s loved ones are left wrestling with anger, rage and sadness after the incident. In the meantime, a conspiracy radio station broadcasts, “To keep us separate, suspicious, they manufacture tragedy, stage massacres and murder civilians.” After being thoroughly desensitised to the tragedy, listeners from around the world pollute this already alienating and crippling period of the lives of Sabrina’s loved ones by sending them threatening emails, knocking on their doors and demanding that they ‘give up the act’ and ‘reveal the truth of what happened to Sabrina’ or ‘if she even truly existed’.

Drnaso leaves us parched, breathless and with a pit in our stomach

Drnaso’s comics are devoid of flaming colour, passionate facial expressions or dramatic dialogues. He draws and writes of ordinary, daily life. His dispassionate commentary exposes us to an underbelly of frenzied terror, isolation and lies. In this tense atmosphere, of tortuous and unrelenting discomfort, Drnaso leaves us parched, breathless and with a pit in our stomach. We can neither speak nor stay silent, but we are shocked into awe and horror. The book remains unresolved and it will forever be.

One of the articles on Sabrina claims that this novel is sure to be the most discussed novel of the year or the years to come. Maybe the conversations that the novel sparks will give birth to a larger fire. Or maybe not. We can only wait and see. In the meantime, do yourself a favour and give this relevant social commentary of a book a long, and thoughtful read.

“So anyway, don’t worry about riding a bike through the woods. The wild animals stay in hotels.” – Sabrina

Sabrina, Nick Drnaso, Granta, ISBN 9781783784905, 204p., € 22.95.

Pooja Ramakrishnan is studying MSc Environmental Engineering and has recently joined the Delta team as their book and podcast pundit. A science student during the day and a poet by night, she balances the two with her curiosity and fascination for the world we live in.

Pooja Ramakrishnan / Freelance journalist

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