DownfallDownfall by Inio Asano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A portrait of a particularly unpleasant artist. Partly this is about the pressure sales and success can apply on creative endeavour (perhaps quite autobiographical given the recognition the author has received with books like Solanin). But Downfall goes a bit deeper than that – Fukazawa is so relentlessly focused on becoming a manga-ka that all his relationships burn up around him. The irony is that his manga is perceived by his audience to be very empathetic and moving, even though the creator of it is incapable of real human connection. Fukazawa is a master of emotional manipulation, in real life and in his work, but he's incapable of actual sympathy. The judgment of an almost mythical cat-eyed teenage girlfriend, that speaks in profundities and absurdities, is devastating, and very, very impactful.

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The Line of Beauty

The Line of BeautyThe Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The final tragic parts of the book were the most thrilling to me – when the various secrets and hypocrisies that have built up over the first two languid sections, wrapped up in the twin seductions of love and money, burst out into the open. The protagonist – from an undistinguished middle class background, and gay – ingratiates himself with the well-to-do family of an ambitious Conservative politician, as a lodger and then as a friend. And while Nick Guest (ominous name) is supremely capable of averting the inherent tensions of such an arrangement, eventually it blows up in everyone's faces. The MP, charismatic but vain, is undone by his own sexual and financial profligacy, which contrasts with Nick's own prudent behaviour. Nevertheless, the underlying homophobia of the times (amplified by the press) asserts itself, and Nick finds that his surrogate family will not stand up for him in a time of crisis. Hollinghurst's talents lie in the delicate depiction of the interactions between people, and the evasions and ironies used to sustain relationships, up until the pressures of the outside world break them apart. He's a great writer, and this is a great book.

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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance CartoonistThe Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My favourite of the things I've read by Tomine, although I also have two young daughters so that may say more about me than about the work. Much of this volume is taken up with short sketches of the various (sometimes imagined) humiliations Tomine has gone through as a comics obsessive and increasingly successful cartoonist – which are wry and funny and easily digestible. The final section is a bit longer, and documents a typically ridiculous brush with death that nevertheless leads Tomine to write a very moving letter to his children, as well as reflect on the ways his workaholism takes him away from his family and the things that really make him happy. Other readers may find that a trite and obvious endpoint, although as someone very much in the trenches of fatherhood with Tomine it struck particularly true. The final irony of the piece is that the cartooning urge cannot be suppressed – Tomine channels his insight about the importance of a life outside work into yet more work. Perhaps the format of the book – a square-ruled notebook rather than a typical trade paperback – suggests an artist more at ease with his craft, jotting things down as they come rather than locking himself away from the wife and kids to slave over another critically-acclaimed tome. I hope so, for his sake and mine.

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