Study Guide for The Nao of Brown

Created by: Glyn Dillon

Published by: Self Made Hero

ISBN: 1906838429

Pages: 208

Genre: Drama, Psychology, Romance

Click to read the Review

Book Club
Discussion Questions

  • What did you like about the Nao of Brown? Was there anything you found frustrating?
  • What visual or literary motifs did you notice recurring? (Some examples: circles, frogs, colours, black/white dichotomy.)
  • What do you think are the most important moments in the book for each character? What redefines them and how were they defined before?
  • Dillon intersperses a fable-like allegory throughout, the story of Pictor. What does this mean to Nao's story? Why do you think Nao bears so much affection for the anime and manga, Ichi?
  • What do you think of Dillon's use of Buddhism and other philosophies throughout the book? Well done? Preachy? How to do think thematic elements of Buddhism help the story resolve?
  • Talk about some specific images from the book. What struck you particularly?
  • Among readers who had problems with the book, most take issue with the climax (stroke and car accident) and the four-year timeskip. Did you appreciate these things or did they bother you? Why do you think Dillon concluded his book in this way?
  • Did you think The Nao of Brown had a happy ending? Discuss the book's tone after Nao's accident and what that might mean for Nao's future.

Themes

Narration

Nao narrates from the future, from after the book's conclusion. This means that she is revealing the things that matter to the story of how she begins the path to overcoming her troubles. The way she curates the introductions of both Steve and Gregory is therefore invested with purpose. The manner through which they are introduced and described, as well as the way Dillon records them, are under Nao's control and are therefore more than just the dry record of things as they happened.

Characters

Nao

Nao is a homophone for "now." She has enough trouble surviving in the present psychologically that investigating the future provokes trauma. She easily becomes overwhelmed and anxious, and then suffers an OCD spike. She has no luck at ridding herself of flies (i.e. unwanted attention from men) because, she suspects, they live in the future. Her last name, Fukui (meaning "fortunate"), was sacrificed so that she could take on Brown, a reference both to her mixed/hafu ethnic state and the fact that she'll eventually need to recognize that she is neither black nor white, neither evil nor good, but some combination of the two. She is "English" (Anglo) and Japanese. Ironically, it is this ethnocultural admixture that attracts the flies (see below: Frogs).

Nao suffers from Purely Obsessional Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a form of OCD that internalizes obsessions and expresses through traumatic spikes. Being dominated by her disorder, Nao feels dominated more by the cycle that her disorder brings. The book consistently portrays Nao's experience (and aesthetic revelation) in terms of circles and cycles. Ensos. The controls to her Shuffle. The circle drawn on the cover of her notebook. Washing Machines. Möbius strips. Steve's O tape. The circle, for her, is a representation of how she is trapped by her disorder, by the O of obsessiveness. (Note also that she says "oh" before spikes.)

Steve

In renaming himself, Zacchaeus (the little guy) Stephen (the martyr) Meke becomes Steve Meek (aka The Meek). In sacrificing his name (and his strongest tie to his littleness), he becomes the martyr who will eventually inherit the earth (or at least Nao). Steve spends most of the book frustrated, aggravated, and impotent. It is only when he sacrifices his dignity (by poopin' his pants in public, enjoying the moment, and then sharing the experience with Nao and the bartender) and finds strength in no longer being self-conscious that he becomes the man Nao can need. Until then he subsumes himself in his principal trait: meekness.

Nao is well aware of Steve's abiding affection (cf. kite story) but cannot give him what he wants yet. He is not big enough. For the bulk of the story, he is just another trigger for her. He would be in danger because his inability to grow makes him a kid in some sense. Still, when trying to remember her dream man's name, Nao twice names him Steve before resorting to the papacy.

Gregory

Gregory Pope is named for Pope Gregory. Gregory XIII, actually, who was specially concerned with the relation between East and West. As well, Gregory XIII is responsible for the Gregorian calendar—the Gregorian calendar's lack of alignment with the moon and seasons reflects Gregory's own sense of displacement within himself.

Gregory is a washing machine repairman and so—in the space of the thematic narrative—cannot ever be the man for Nao. His job (and identity) is to repair broken cycles, while Nao is haunted and plagued by cycles and can only be saved once hers no longer cycle. In Gregory's defining moment, he describes that his new sacred vocation is to the spinning cycles of routine. He completes this transformation after his stroke by writing his book of essential practice and retaining the title Washing Machine Repairman. While his goal is to promote a cycle that will purify and cleanse, cycles (generally) are offensive to Nao.

Gregory is Nao's tulpa in that she conjures him from (the) Nothing. Nao's first words to Gregory are: Were you trying to see through yourself?"

Pictor's Story

Pictor means "painter." Pictor, like Nao, is hafu—though half man, half-tree. He is made as he is on a whim by Fate, by God, by the Nothing, Nobodaddyo. His head is a conker; homophonically, he conquers soldiers, generals and their daughters (one by unkindness and one by kindness), and finally his own self via self-immolation and beheading. Pictor is Nao's analogue from the Ichi stories. Nao's life resembles Pictor's in several ways, though whether this is coincidence or due Nao's obsession with the show...?

The Pictor fable is a retelling of Grimms' Hans the Hedgehog, and the story serves to illustrate that no one, not even the person described as "good" is either black or white. Pictor is "good" but he kills in war, slaughters his sheep, abuses the first captain's daughter, and then kills his family. He has a happy "ending" as does Nao, but these are only endings because that is where the story chooses to stop.

Frogs

The frog motif appears throughout. Nao has a fondness for frogs because they eat flies—which represent death and putrefaction to Nao (cf. her horrible bathroom fly story).

In the store, the boys who bear her affection are flies. Steven wants to be her frog, removing any sense of fear for flies (cf. his birthday note to her).

Colour

Nao always wears some article of red. Red seems to point to the spikes in her OCD nature. (The exception to this is her first date with Gregory, when she wears black and white and, ironically, looks the part of the stereotyped Japanese milquetoast that Gregory suggests. Also, somewhat like a little girl, which is important for later.) Scenes that take place in red settings seem heightened (cf. the blow-up between Nao and Gregory in Nao's red room). When Nao turns red-then-white, the reader is cued to the cataclysm within her.

Peoploids is sometimes stripped of most colour save a blue wash.

Cycle

Cycle finds form in many places throughout the book—so much so that we can easily consider it the governing motif. Prominent representations include Ensos, Washing Machine ports, the circular interface on Nao's Shuffle, the Möbius strip (and club), Nao's notebook, the gloves of League soldiers, Nao's expression "Oh," Steve's O-tape, Nao's replacement of her own head with a monstrous Möbius strip.

Nao is trapped in cycles and cannot see herself free. Gregory is a man whose job is to repair broken cycles (and thus unintentionally trap Nao), and so he can never be seen as the right man for her. Though: after Nao comes to a place of relative peace in the conclusion, she has adopted the Washing Machine, and what it represents, as her chop—as her signature seal.

References

Binky Brown

Binky Brown

Nao is introduced to the reader on the first page in Binky Brown cosplay. Binky Brown is Justin Green's avatar in his self-referential '70s comics story, Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary. Binky Brown (and so Justin Green) suffers a form of OCD that manifests in obsessions with the possibility that he might contaminate sacred sites with his sexual turmoil, projected as rays from first his penis and then from his fingers and feet (each phalluses). Nao uses Binky Brown as comfort and then buries him in Peoploids' storage space.

Binky Brown's troubling hands

As an additional reference, Geek Watkins mentions "Noyatin." The word is not used in the same sense as in Green's work, but that is its derivation and the allusion stands. In Binky Brown the character invokes this made-up word whenever he has an impure thought. These incantations are, for Brown, largely internalized.

Binky Brown and Noyatin

Abraxas

Abraxas comes from the Gnostic teacher Basilides (2nd century AD). Abraxas was the Great Archon or ruler, his name deriving from an initialism of the 7 principal celestial spheres. (Abracadabra may be etymologically related.) Abraxas would be higher in rank than the Christian God and devil, combining within itself all opposites. Use of Abraxas in The Nao of Brown seems primarily Jungian, as described in his Seven Sermons to the Dead.

"Abraxas is activity: nothing can resist him but the unreal" - Sermon 2.

"...but Abraxas, he does not see, for he is undefinable life itself, which is the mother of good and evil alike...He is fulness, uniting itself with emptiness. He is the the sacred wedding; He is love and the murder of love; He is the holy one and his betrayer. He is the brightest light of day and the deepest night of madness. To see him means blindness; to know him is sickness; to worship him is death; to fear him is wisdom; not to resist him means liberation." - Sermon 3.

See also Jung, Spirituality and Individuation.

Nobodaddyo

The Nothing's original identity. One of at least three references to William Blake poems, Nobodaddyo (a kluge of nobody and daddy/daddy-o) is a reference to "To Nobodaddy":

Why art thou silent & invisible
Father of jealousy
Why dost thou hide thyself in clouds
From every searching Eye

Why darkness & obscurity
In all thy words & laws
That none dare eat the fruit but from
The wily serpents jaws
Or is it because Secresy
gains females loud applause

Again in Blake:

Then again old Nobodaddy swore
He ne'er had seen such a thing before,
Since Noah was shut in the ark,
Since Eve first chose her hellfire spark,
Since 'twas the fashion to go naked,
Since the old Anything was created . . .

Shaw makes extensive use of "Nobodaddy" in Back to Methusaleh to refer to the Christian God.

Thangkas

Thangkas are used in some Buddhist practices to focus devotional meditation.

Tulpa

A concept in mysticism of a being or object which is created through sheer discipline alone. It is a materialized thought that has taken physical form and is usually regarded as synonymous to a thoughtform (though thoughtform arose later as a Western appropriation of tulpas).

Gregory/Nothing is described as a fat ghost. Nao introduces him by asking him whether he's trying to see through himself. Gregory asks on their next meeting if he is her tulpa.

The Magazine song, "My Tulpa," is quoted immediately after Gregory agrees to a date.

Other Relevant Things

Some Random
Things I Appreciated

For lack of a better way to squeeze these in, I thought I'd shamelessly point out some cool things you might otherwise miss.

A Legend for Nao's __ of 10

On the book's dust jacket, the settings on the Nao's washing machine head describe what each number in Nao's system represents:

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

(HT to Zach, who noticed first.)

Radar

Steve is describing how he thinks women he likes have a special radar that alerts them to when he's given up and that it's only at that point they show interest.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

Nao recalls this immediately after Steve shows himself successful with the bartender and spends the rest of the evening in a jealous funk.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

I Need Pictor Boots

Nao comes into Peoploids out of the rain. Her shoes are wet and she says that while they are the stuff, what she really needs are some Pictor boots.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

On the next page, Nao walks up from the storeroom to find Steve investigating her shoes. He's looking up her size for the birthday present he's just decided to get her.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

What Was His Name?

After Nao breaks her washing machine, she is trying to remember the name of her ideal guy (Gregory). On her first two attempts, she names him "Steve."

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

She Knows, Meek. She Knows

After Steve hits it off with the bartender, Nao mopes about, listens to his O-tape, lies to Tara regarding what Steve means to her, and then relates this story about him to the reader.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

That Is a Möbius Strip

That is a möbius strip

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

Breaking the Cycle

In the lead-up to Nao and Gregory's blowout, Dillon drops a couple panels of a cracked open washing machine, prefiguring the coming events.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

Nao + _____, Sitting in a Tree

For all the people who wonder who Nao ends up with: who do we know who plays accordion?

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

 

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