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 like this book. It has a story to make you happy and sad, pictures to make you wonder, and themes to make you think.
Sarah Laing is a cartoonist as well as a writer — I knew of her work from magazines and from her blog Let Me Be Frank. I read a review of The Fall of Light somewhere and thought it sounded interesting. Sometime later I realised that the cartoonist/blogger was also the novelist, so I went out and bought the book.
The story details the fall and rise of Rudy Chapelle, an Auckland architect. He struggles with his job, his colleagues, his ex-wife, his children, his friends, his neighbours, and his parents. In short, he struggles. He is actually pretty annoying in many ways, quite precious and a bit self-obsessed. I could appreciate why his ex-wife was his ex-wife. But he’s not a bad guy really, and it’s good to see his slowly overcome himself despite himself. Many of the other characters in the book are very engaging and likeable though. And so is the setting — Auckland — but maybe just because I live there too.