What we’re reading: Nick Drnaso, Pat Barker & Sayaka Murata

Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films and TV shows we’re watching, and the music we’re listening to.


Bronte Coates is reading Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina made literary history a few weeks ago when it became the first graphic novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. As a comic fan, it feels like a long overdue achievement, though I definitely think it’s a deserving pick. An ominous contemplation of the internet age, Sabrina is a richly atmospheric, unnerving and deeply upsetting work of fiction that feels incredibly timely.

While the story opens with the disappearance of a young woman, Drnaso is less concerned with the solving of that particular mystery than with examining what happens to those left behind – notably the woman’s sister and boyfriend, and a friend of the boyfriend’s who offers him a place to stay. The picture that Drnaso creates of tragedy’s aftermath is both surreal and banal, and the situation is intensified when the story goes viral leading to online hysteria and conspiracy theories. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to feel the cold crush of despair in their heart.


Ellen Cregan is reading Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

I’m about a third of the way through this offbeat and (so far) humorous novel about the life of a woman, Keiko, who has spent 18 years working at a city convenience store in Japan. Keiko finds it impossible to behave ‘normally’, or even define what ‘normal’ means, and so spends her life searching for appropriate role models to copy in order to appear regular. Meanwhile, her friends and family find it odd that she has stayed in her dead-end job for such a long time, and are constantly concerned that she has no desire to begin a career pathway, find romance or start a family.

While Keiko is happy in the convenience store aisles, the external pressure to change her ways is becoming overwhelming. I am only at the beginning of this book but I have already been completely drawn into this book’s world of rice balls, fluorescent lights and aggressively thorough customer service. This is a darkly comic novel that looks sharply at conformity, and the fraught nature of living up to other people’s expectations.


Lian Hingee is reading The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (available September)

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that despite her extraordinarily long list of accolades (which includes a Booker Prize), a mentorship from one of my favourite writers (Angela Carter) and a 36-year-old career, I had never read anything by Pat Barker. However, what I had heard about her writing – that it was blunt, bawdy and impeccably researched – was impressive. So I was excited when I heard that she was putting her formidable talent into retelling the Trojan War story, one of my favourite tales.

The Silence of the Girls tells the story of Briseis: a princess enslaved by the Greeks, awarded to Achilles, and coveted by Agamemnon. This tale is usually painted as a great love story – Achilles’ fury over losing Briseis brought the entire war to a grinding halt, and The Iliad makes much of her grief after he’s killed in battle – but Barker strips the romance from it, grounding it back in the blood and violence of war. Because you can dress it up as prettily as you like but Briseis’ story is still one filled with murder and rape. Barker, who was once instructed ‘if they can’t sympathise with the women you’re creating, then sod their fucking luck’, gives Briseis a strength, an intelligence, a voice and a consuming female rage, and combines it with an uncompromising and cleanly straightforward writing style that rips the story right out of ancient Greece and into the modern era. I’m loving it.

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Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman

Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori

$19.99Buy now

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