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.