Corridor: A Graphic Novel, Sarnath Banerjee (2004)

I’m not terribly familiar with the graphic novel/narrative genre, but several weeks ago I had the good fortune of attending a workshop by Hillary Chute–a young American academic who specialises in graphic narratives. Hillary has worked with and written on Art Spiegelman, author of the wonderful Maus, and engaging with her made me think I needed to familiarise myself with this growing form of literature: a post-PhD reading project, I thought. But then I came across this example of an Indian graphic novel, so I squeezed it in amid the thesis revision, RA work, lecturing, marking, job applications (offers welcome), general panicking of this final two months of PhD.

I found it rather unsatisfying, as it just seemed… unfinished. Like a draft of something bigger and better. This may be a result of my relative unfamiliarity with this genre. Perhaps the parameters of graphic narrative criticism have not yet permeated throughout academia (just like facebook etiquette is not yet generally agreed upon!), so I’m unfamiliar with the grammar and vocabulary of it. If anyone reading this has a different perspective, I would be very happy to discuss it.

Corridor is set in Delhi, Lutgens’ New Delhi to be precise, and opens with the narrator trawling the bookshops of Connaught Place in the heat of summer to find a specific book. He admits to being an obsessive-compulsive collector, and quotes Jean Baudrillard, in a passage I felt an affinity with:

“Yes, the collector. He regresses to the anal phase- expressed by accumulation and retention. His passion is not for possessing objects themselves, but stems from his fanaticism for an illusory wholeness, for completing the set. But really he is trying to re-collect himself. And if he gets the last object in the collection, he is effectively signifying his own death.”

And then it progresses into discussions, and illustrations, of various characters’ sex lives, romantic liaisons, all their attempts to find satisfaction in a difficult world, and I was left wondering how it all tied together, and what the point really was.

The blurb on the back cover states: “Played out in the corridors of Connaught Place and Calcutta, the story captures the alienation and fragmented reality of urban life through an imaginative alchemy of text and image.” Alienation and fragmentation I could see. But if graphic novels/narratives are to transcend the assumptions that so many people will have about them–that they are just comics, pictures–then I think they need to rise above appearing like an unfinished story-board. Unfortunately, I don’t think Corridor quite manages this.

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Elen

Travel writer at www.wildernessmetropolis.com. Editor, writer, traveller, reader, literary critic.

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