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Man Booker Longlist: Sabrina

sabrina

And we are officially off and running with our Man Booker shadow panel reviews. First up is Sabrina, the first graphic novel ever nominated for the prize. Over the next month we’ll be posting reviews for each of the Man Booker longlist books. We hope you join us in reading the books and make sure to comment with your thoughts about each book

Four of our panelists read this book. Here are our reviews.

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
2018 Man Booker (longlist)
Published in: 2018
Judges: Nicole, Jen, Book Worm, and Andrew
Find it/buy it here: Sabrina

Synopsis (from Amazon): How many hours of sleep did you get last night? Rate your overall mood from 1 to 5, 1 being poor. Rate your stress level from 1 to 5, 5 being severe. Are you experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide? Is there anything in your personal life that is affecting your duty?

When Sabrina disappears, an airman in the U.S. Air Force is drawn into a web of suppositions, wild theories, and outright lies. He reports to work every night in a bare, sterile fortress that serves as no protection from a situation that threatens the sanity of Teddy, his childhood friend and the boyfriend of the missing woman. Sabrina’s grieving sister, Sandra, struggles to fill her days as she waits in purgatory. After a videotape surfaces, we see devastation through a cinematic lens, as true tragedy is distorted when fringe thinkers and conspiracy theorists begin to interpret events to fit their own narratives.

The follow-up to Nick Drnaso’s Beverly, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Sabrina depicts a modern world devoid of personal interaction and responsibility, where relationships are stripped of intimacy through glowing computer screens. Presenting an indictment of our modern state, Drnaso contemplates the dangers of a fake-news climate. Timely and articulate, Sabrina leaves you gutted, searching for meaning in the aftermath of disaster.

Nicole’s Review: I borderline hated this book.  Some of it is the book’s fault, and some of it is mine.  It is a scathing examination of life in America today and it wasn’t clever about it.  It took all the worst of us, and put it in simply drawn, uninteresting graphics with pedestrian prose.

My struggles with the book personally come from being completely exhausted by the condition of our country.   People are so convinced by THEIR truth, their eyes aren’t open to THE truth.  And I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.  That made enjoying or even appreciating this book very difficult for me.

Dealing with topics such as mass shootings, notoriety,  right-wing conspiracy theorists, depression, marriage, privacy (lack of) and even friendship this book is just completely depressing.  The only moral of the story I got out of it is, things suck and life goes on.  It felt so hopeless, and I don’t necessarily need my fiction to give me hope.  But if I wanted something like this, I could have just turned on the news.

I believe this book is on the Booker list, not because it’s brilliant, but because it’s a graphic novel.  It’s in on a technicality because if it had been a traditional novel, nobody would have batted an eye about it and I don’t think that’s fair to other (depressing but great) books that could have made the list.

Writing quality: 2/5
Originality: 3/5
Character Development: 2/4
Plot Development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 0/2
Total: 9/20

Jen’s Review: Unlike Nicole and Andrew, I found this book was quite clever in its graphics. In fact I think the simple style and colors used were intentional to match the messaging in the book and the author was trying to make a political point about modern life and our lack of connection and isolation from others.  So is the art sparse and pale? Yes, but this was intentional and enhances the main message of the book. However, like Nicole I didn’t really enjoy this book. It is depressing and left me with a sense of hopelessness about the state of the world — a perspective that may have grains of truth, but is a little too one note for me in its bleakness.

I originally thought it was interesting to have a graphic novel on the list but I have a hard time seeing how as a literary work, it surpasses many other literary works that should have made the list. How do you compare the writing of a graphic novel to the other novels on the list. Take the first page of dialogue:

There you are!
Why were you hiding from me?
Look at that face
Do you want supper?
God!
Don’t do that? Sorry?

Now compare that to the first few sentences of Overstory, which I read prior to Sabrina.

First there was nothing. Then there was everything. 

Then, in a park above a western city after dusk, the air is raining messages. 

A woman sits on the ground, leaning against a pine. Its bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying things, in words before words. 

Bottom line, I feel pretty strongly that the Man Booker Prize is not appropriate for graphic novels, no matter how good. And my ratings reflect my difficulty trying to fit this graphic novel into our usual rating metics.

Writing quality: 2/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 2/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 12/20

Book Worm’s Review: I fall somewhere between Nicole and Jen I didn’t hate it but the simple drawings drove me mad. I will confess I read this on a Kindle Paperwhite so black and white images are probably not the best way to experience this book, the characters are so basically drawn I found it really hard to keep track of who was who and in places the writing was almost unreadably small (Jen tells me this is the same in the printed book).

I agree with Nicole when she says if this was a print book it wouldn’t have made the cut. The themes have all been done before in print books and in movies. I got to the end feeling I barely knew the characters. The only thing that really developed was the plot about Sabrina and what happened to her and the progress of the airman’s job and home life. I will say the radio station and emails about conspiracy theories were creepy, but again this kind of thing is all over Google anyway.

Writing quality: 2/5 (drawing quality)
Originality: 3/5
Character Development: 2/4
Plot Development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 10/20

Andrew’s Review: Being a slow reader, I was initially excited to have a graphic novel nominated to the long list. This was a book I could read in 2-3 days! And while I was able to finish after just a few evenings, I was sorely disappointed and ultimately confused as to why this book was nominated. Did I miss something? Was this a work of staggering genius so large that it flew right over my head?

Sabrina is a cautionary tale about how easily conspiracy theories can seep into our consciousness and affect the way we see the world. Unfortunately, the story is very bland and the characters are distant and sorely underdeveloped. I felt no compassion towards any of them nor did I care what happened to them. And shouldn’t a great graphic novel have great art? I found the drawings to be boring and unhelpful in the storytelling. The characters all looked the same and had no expression. It all felt very flat and uninspiring.

Writing quality: 2/5
Originality: 1/5
Character Development: 1/4
Plot Development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 0/2
Total: 6/20

Sabrina is the first book we reviewed. As we continue reading through the list we’ll be ranking all our books using our “objective” rating scale. At the end of the shadow panel (and before the shortlist is announced), we will also post each of our personal preference lists.

  1. Sabrina 9.25/20

We want to hear from you. Have you read the book? What did you think? Does it deserve to make the shortlist? Why or why not?

Next up… Mars Room by Rachel Kushner.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Susie #

    I agree that it doesn’t really seem to be appropriate for the list, and when I think of the books that were passed over I am a little annoyed to be honest! I found the dialogue rudimentary and stunted. I was left feeling that it wasn’t particularly well executed. A miss from me.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 13, 2018
    • I feel annoyed too. Interestingly, I think the dialogue is stunted because the characters are themselves stunted. The dialogue and images all come together to make a point although my world view isn’t as bleak as the author’s view. But these people are isolated, lives devoid of meaningful connections and interactions. I think it’s all very intentional.

      Like

      August 13, 2018
  2. Anita #

    Well, looks like a) I definitely picked a good book to pass on and b) we can only go up from here.

    However, Jen’s review really made me want to read Overstory now.

    Like

    August 13, 2018
  3. Reading this, I got annoyed all over again. Jen – LOVED your comparisons. Ack. Let’s all pretend like this wasn’t nominated and that The Shepherd’s Hut was. 🙂

    Like

    August 13, 2018
    • Susie #

      I’m in the middle of The Shepherd’s Hut at the moment. Unfortunately life has got in the way but I’m enjoying it.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 14, 2018
  4. Tracy S #

    I had rated this at 4 stars initially, but as I think more, it drops. It wasn’t terrible, but it seems an odd choice, especially for the first graphic on the list. And I’m still not sure about the rules re: graphic novels. Nicole’s right. The Shepherd’s Hut was better.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 14, 2018
    • I do think it was a pretty good graphic novel and if I was rating it against other graphic novels, I would have rated it highly.

      Like

      August 14, 2018
  5. I haven’t read the book because personally I’m not a huge fan of graphic novels, but it was so hyped by the Man Booker. However reading all the reviews makes me want to read it less now :”(

    Liked by 1 person

    August 14, 2018

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