BOOK REVIEW: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

Credit: Nick Drnaso

Danny Cummins, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Each year, the Man Booker Prize is given in recognition of the best original book published in the UK and written in the English language. Last year, thirteen books made the shortlist, and for the first time, one of those books was a graphic novel: Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso.

Credit: Aaj News
Sabrina author Nick Drnaso

Though it was ultimately Anna Burns’ Milkman that was awarded the Man Booker Prize, the nomination of a graphic novel into the final round was a controversial achievement that raised a few questions. For a medium typically restricted to the written word, why would a graphic novel with a clear visual advantage be allowed to compete? On the flip side, how could a graphic novel with only dialogue contend with the best prose of the year? Also, possibly even more important than that: should a graphic novel be eligible for a writing award?

It was these questions that drew me to Sabrina. After a trip to Barnes and Noble and a two-hour plane ride on the same day, I finished the novel. Moreover, what a ride it was.

Without spoiling anything, Drnaso’s Sabrina tells the story of a young woman whose disappearance troubles her friends, family, and the nation. It is a riveting narrative of tragedy in the age of social media, and it proposes a discussion on the dangers of the internet in a way that is remarkably relevant to our social climate.

Sabrina is frightening and upsetting in non-traditional ways. Even the artwork itself is haunting. The characters are drawn mostly without emotion and warmth, but the effect works so brilliantly with the narrative that a few times the artwork deeply unsettled me. You would think that a graphic novel nominated for such an award would have intricately designed characters as well as gorgeous colors and composition. Take Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, for example, it is one of the first graphic novels to have received literary recognition, and the artwork is exquisitely drawn. Sabrina’s artwork is not this way. It is as minimal and unsettling as possible and fits with the story perfectly.

Sabrina is worth reading. It is worth reading based on the peculiar circumstances of its nomination alone. The advent of a graphic novel in contention for winning the best book of the year ought to be enough to draw even the lay readers out of their comfort zone. However, if that is not enough, do not worry. It took less than two hours to read, and though the artwork is striking and deserves careful attention, you could head to your local Barnes and Noble, grab a coffee, sit on a comfortable chair, and power through it.

Thanks for reading!