My newly discovered interest in graphic novels led me to “Asterios Polyp” – another amazing portrayal of a unique character and life situations, relationships, emotions and struggles that ring so true.
Asterios Polyp is a successful architect whom we find at a major crossroad at the beginning of the novel.
He’s just turned 50 and he’s lying in a messy apartment that hasn’t been tidied up for at least a month, watching video tapes of his past and feeling self-pity, it seems. At that moment the whole building is caught up in a huge fire and he has just enough time to run out of the building and watch his life up to that moment burn up. Probably for the best, because the fire gives way to a new life that Asterios Polyp starts to look for.
From that moment the novel splits into two directions: the present and the past. Chapters take turns showing us what’s happening now, and what Asterios was like in the past, how he used to live, what brought him to the moment of feeling sorry for himself. We see that he was kind of a jerk. A self-gloating, vain, but intelligent and amusing jerk. His intellect and unique perspective on architectural design won him a highly regarded position at a university, respect from academic circles, his colleagues, etc. It also brought him a line of women at his doorstep that he gladly let in for some casual sex.
Then he met her. A brilliant, but modest and self-deprecating artist whom he started calling Daisy. To him, she was different from all the others. The relationship brought out good things in him that he never had a chance or wished to show. It was one of those relationships that reveal the best version of yourself. But it didn’t work the same way the other way around. The way Mr. Mazzucchelli portrays the relationship with all the nuances of the unspoken, of small, hardly noticed gestures that reveal volumes and volumes of literature on love and the impossibility of human connection, is simply genius.
(asterios and daisy speaking different languages)
Then we have the present and Asterios’s metamorphosis. Living with a mechanic’s family and working as his helper, Asterios spends time enjoying the simplicity of life, of bonding with beautiful human beings and has moments of self-reflection that bring him closer to what he must do, and what he does in the end. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I have to say that only the ending was a disappointment. Not the whole thing, just the very ending, the final 2-3 pages. It’s as if the author, after saying so much wonderful stuff, felt at a loss of how to finalize his grand work. Also, a very important thread of Asterios’s unborn twin brother is suddenly broken around the middle of the book and never picked up again, which seems kind of amateurish.
But all that is very minor compared to the artistry of both the illustration and the text. Being part of the world of Asterios Polyp felt magical.