Mansfield and Me — Sarah Laing

This biography/autobiography/graphic novel is idiosyncratic, interesting and fun. It has sent me off to read and re-read both Katherine Mansfield and Sarah Laing, different writers from different centuries who still seem to have a lot in common.

Sarah Laing’s life so far has been conventional for an inquisitive Kiwi — growing up in the suburbs, university, OE working in London, returning to NZ to bring up a family, with lots of personal experimentation and discovery along the way. Presented here as a graphic novel, it’s readable and fun. It’s like a long-form expanded version of her comic strip Let Me Be Frank.

But Laing has been influenced a lot by Katherine Mansfield, perhaps more in life than in writing. So Laing’s life story here is interpolated with Mansfield’s, bringing out the parallels and contrasts in their stories. Mansfield’s explicit influence is expressed by her appearing as a character in Laing’s life, popping up here and there to offer wry commentary on the brash colonial.

I do like Laing’s drawing style too — it’s sketchy (the good kind) but expressive. It suits the tone perfectly, helping both stories to be vibrant and immediate. I also like the way Mansfield’s story is drawn in sepia tones: you see that sort of thing all the time on screen but it’s fun to see it in a comic. It’s just another of the little flourishes that make this such a satisfying book.

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