Friday, February 26, 2010

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

The books I love the most are the hardest ones to blog about because it's hard to avoid gushing and I don't like it when other people gush online so I try not to do that. So what happens is that I don't write anything at all about some of my very favourite books, like David Small's Stitches. It's a shame to leave out the best ones, so I'll try to restrain myself with Asterios Polyp, which is so good that everyone should read it RIGHT NOW!

We meet Asterios at about the lowest point in his life, after his wife Hana has left him and he has lost his job as a professor of architecture and all of his possessions have been destroyed in an apartment fire. With only the clothes on his back and three keepsakes in his pocket, he sets off to find a new life. In flashbacks, we learn that Asterios was pompous, irritable and self-centred. It is no wonder that Hana left him. She is a sculptor who uses found materials to create organic, whimsical structures. Asterios sees things as strictly black and white and he values only functional designs. He is not a likable man and yet I felt sympathetic to his plight, so beaten down in the opening chapter.

This is a graphic novel that makes full use of the storytelling and emotional powers of art itself. Mazzucchelli's style changes with the characters. Narrative and side commentaries are offered by illustrations that take us beyond the written text. Asterios is always shown in profile, in a style that reminds me of the old man in Pascal Blanchet's La Fugue, (which may be why I warmed to Asterios immediately, come to think of it).

The tragedy inherent in the human experience. Lots of humour. Lots of literary references. Magnificent, expressive art. This book is fabulous.

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