New NYRB cover
I have developed a habit of writing these reviews as a reminder of why I read and of what I have read. Recently the habit has been graphic novels, partly because I can have a full sense of them with all the other reading that I have to do. And because they are worth it themselves.
Graphic fiction is a slow film. A filmed play with incredible visual possibilities that go perhaps further than movies, because a film has a requirement to create a believable world, reality or virtual reality; it has to somehow be habitable. A graphic artist can push the shape and shade even further than a cinematographer can. With any book you can take the story at your speed given what the author gives you. You can read it where you want to read it. You can stretch out in whatever position your prefer and have that tea or beer by your side.
This book is a Fellini film, a Toulouse-Lautrec poster and a Greek myth rolled together. Orfi who sees his beloved Eura walk into the strange house on Via Saterna, which inspires all sorts of dark stories from the neighbours. Orfi is a rock star from a noble family who sings raunchy songs accompanied here by Buzzati’s voluptuous drawings.
He goes to try to find Eura in the strange house, and it turns out to lead to the underworld. Buzzatti’s underworld is a brothel with full of naked bodies, but few echoes of earthly life’s desires. Orfi is immune to temptation, however, focused on his search for Eura. He sings song after song of death after death, until he realises that in death the dead no longer need the god they needed in life. He is finally granted 24 hours in the underworld to find Eura. He eventually finds her after searching for most of his time through a Kafkaesque labyrinth. When he finally finds his love, she is reluctant to leave with him, “Your songs are not enough. Here the great law decides. Don’t believe those old myths.” Eventually, she refuses to leave with him
It is fantastic that NYRB Books are republishing these older graphic works bringing them into our world where the visual is so powerful and where a whole art form is bursting with vigour and creativity.
Aaron Falk, now a Federal agent in the big city, in Melbourne, returns to his home town, Kiewarra, a drought-wracked, small country town, for the funeral of his close friend Luke Hadler, who has seemingly murdered his wife and son and then killed himself. This is a mystery, so nothing is that straight-forward, and the new local cop draws Aaron into the investigation. Many local characters resist his involvement. Partly because he moved away and partly because they believe that years before he was involved in the death of a teenage girl that Luke gave him a questionable alibi for. Much as the mystery and the characters draw the reader in, this is a vital novel for big city readers to encounter a vivid, contemporary examination of how hard life can be in the country–the land and weather don’t cooperate, the local authorities seem far away, and the urban centres don’t even notice or understand.
The Rabbi Who Wasn’t Jewish
by Neil Kleid and Nicolas Cinquegrani
When Rabbi David Kahn dies, his brother turns up at the funeral. No great surprise in most cases, except no one knew that he had a brother. A further shock: Roy Dobbs isn’t Jewish. He claims his brother wasn’t either, but that they had been a pair of small time con men. Avi Kahn, David’s son, is poised to take over the congregation, but through the mourning and the doubts raised by the revelations, he is not sure he can. Donnie (David) and Roy had been running a grift at a bar mitzvah, when Donnie met Rachel and fell for her. He had to keep up the pretence that the brothers had used to get into the bar mitzvah that he was Jewish.
The novel is about how the three children cope with their new story of their father’s life. Lea hits the town and doesn’t want to go home; young Eli gets into fights at school while gambling, and Avi becomes involved with Lea’s room mate.
As things go on, Lea visits a Jewish women’s class, Avi applies for a new job. The central irony of the book is that a con led to a man living the best life he could building a temple from scratch and fathering a happy family, despite the lie that is central to his life. Kleid takes this right up to last moment, and Cinquegrani’s dark lines and gray washes are a straightforward medium for the tale.