Nick Drnaso's graphic novel on Man Booker Prize longlist

Sabrina Hardcover. Nick Drnaso's graphic novel, Sabrina, tells the story of a killing in Colorado while focusing on the Internet rumours and conspiracy theories that emerge around it.
Sabrina Hardcover. Nick Drnaso's graphic novel, Sabrina, tells the story of a killing in Colorado while focusing on the Internet rumours and conspiracy theories that emerge around it.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM AMAZON.COM

LONDON • A graphic novel has made the longlist of the Man Booker Prize, Britain's most prestigious literary award. The nomination marks a major breakthrough for the format.

Nick Drnaso's Sabrina, a work that novelist Zadie Smith called "the best book - in any medium - I have read about our current moment", is the surprise name among the 13 finalists announced on Monday. It appears alongside Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room, Sally Rooney's Normal People and Michael Ondaatje's Warlight.

Ondaatje won the Booker Prize in 1992 for The English Patient and this month won a special Golden Booker for best winner in the award's 50-year history.

Graphic novels have previously been nominated for - and won - the National Book Award, the American equivalent of the Booker. But they have never been nominated for the main fiction category in either the United States or Britain, despite many achieving critical and commercial success.

If Drnaso wins, it would be the biggest moment for the graphic format since Art Spiegelman's Maus won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Sabrina is the story of a killing in Colorado, but focuses on the Internet rumours and conspiracy theories that emerge around it and the effect on those left behind.

The Guardian said that reading the novel "is an experience akin to watching a movie. It's as if the lights have gone down: absorbed and gripped, the skin prickles".

"Of course it was in our minds that this is the first," said Mr Kwame Anthony Appiah, chairman of the judges. "But when the right novel comes along and it's in your 13 favourites, you put it in the list."

 
 
 

It is not the only unusual finalist, he added. The poet Robin Robertson's The Long Take, about a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, is written in verse.

Drnaso is one of three American authors nominated for the prize, alongside Kushner and Richard Powers for his ecological novel The Overstory.

The Booker Prize has been surrounded by controversy since 2014, when it was opened up to anyone writing in English and became dominated by Americans. It had previously been limited to writers from Britain, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Commonwealth countries.

In 2016, Paul Beatty won with The Sellout, while last year George Saunders won for Lincoln In The Bardo. Since then, criticism has only grown.

In May, a literary society that counts Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith among its members demanded the rule change be reversed.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2018, with the headline 'Nick Drnaso's graphic novel on Man Booker Prize longlist'. Print Edition | Subscribe