The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

Category: Graphic Novels, Standalone
Rating: 4/5
Author: Glyn Dillon

There’s danger in writing a review for a book that is so unlike anything I’ve ever read, but one that managed to secure a spot in my heart. This graphic novel centres around Nao Brown, a ‘hafu’, half Japanese half English girl in her mid twenties, treading a knife-edged balance of normalcy, whilst trying to keep her illustration career afloat, and struggling to put forth a brave front while silently suffering from uncontrollable morbid, violent, obsessive thoughts.

The beauty in Dillon’s story, aside from wallpaper worthy water-colour art and attention to detail, is the honesty of his characters and their insecurities, stripped and laid bare. These characters could be you and me, with all our emotional baggage, inadequacies, desires and need for attention, love and security. Nao is terribly unforgiving of her mental temperament, thought this may seem alienating, in reality she comes across as deeply sympathetic and incredibly relatable. All of Dillon’s cast, be it Steve, the unassuming vinyl toy shop owner, or Gregory, a washing machine repairman with a philosophical side, are all characters that step out of the page. Dillon manages to capture their emotions and expressions with disarming accuracy and a soft stroke of his brush.
Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 3.02.52 PM.png
Backtracking a bit here, Nao suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and whilst it can manifest in different ways, in Nao’s case, she imagines the violent ways in which she could harm the people around her. This aspect hit close to home for me. In my early teenage years, I suffered from OCD myself. While my compulsive thoughts were less morbid and more mundane, the uncontrollable nature of OCD, of getting trapped in a loop of thoughts and the crippling anxiety that one may act on those thoughts is captured so realistically. What I loved was that Dillon doesn’t make this a case study of a mental illness but rather a trait of his character, an aspect of her life that she has to deal with.
Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 3.02.29 PM.pngNao is quite aware of her propensity for self-blame and self-hate and in an attempt to quieten her mind, she relies on the Buddhist centre for introspection and peace. I can’t really put my finger on why, but it could be a combination of the philosophical nature of the book, of the influence of Japanese and Buddhist elements, or the obvious similarity in name, but Nao kept reminding me of Nao from A Tale for the Time Being.
All in all, this book might not speak to everyone, but Nao sure left an indelible stamp on me.


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