Review: Stardust Nation

Ad firm's unique merger


By Deborah Levy and Andrzej Klimowski
Self MadeHero, £12.99

Deborah Levy, who is shortlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize, is an author and playwright who has won acclaim for her work in a variety of genres, including fiction, drama, poetry and non-fiction. With the artist Andrzej Klimowski, she has now published her first graphic novel, Stardust Nation, adapted from a short story in her Black Vodka collection. Throughout their careers, both Levy and Klimowski have explored relationships between text and image.

Stardust Nation scrutinises the connection between Tom Banbury, the head of an advertising firm, and his colleague Nikos "Nick" Gazidis.

While on holiday in Spain, Nick rings Tom in the middle of the night to tell him: "We are stardust" - and to say that he is calling "from the moon". He also pours out anguished memories of childhood beatings.

But the memories are not Nick's.Tom has described to him how his father's violence was overlooked by his emotionally distant mother. Nick has empathised to such an extent as to take Tom's remembrances as his own.

After taking an absence from work, Nick reappears at the agency but his distressed descriptions of childhood abuse recommence, and he is sent to a clinic. Tom relates that "Nick had somehow extended his brief as head of finance and crashed into me."

Klimowski's art enhances the epigrammatic qualities of Levy's prose. The book opens with a portrait of half of Tom's face juxtaposed alongside half of Nick's; the following page shows their joined faces as a black negative, manifesting how Nick merges with Tom and is overwrought by the traumatic emotions Tom has never been able to express. Together, the narrative and art intensify Tom's reflections on the shamen-like work of the agency in infiltrating consumers' consciousness, and imply that Tom has sold Nick his memories along with his lifestyle.

However, several vital elements in the original short story are not manifest in the graphic novel. Tom's catharsis and pleasure at seeing Nick feel the pain of his childhood for him are not clearly represented. The book's ending is unsettling but doesn't convey Tom's alcoholism, self-destruction and the apparent failure of any treatment to help him.

Though Stardust Nation is a powerful work, it would have more force with a less ambiguous ending and by revealing more of the characters' unstated torment.

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