Book Review: The Fall Of Light

By David Hill

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NZ writer Sarah Laing.
NZ writer Sarah Laing.

The Fall Of Light by Sarah Laing
(Vintage $37.99)

Rudy's 43rd year is not a good one. He's on bad terms with his wife and daughters; his parents (living or dead); his assertive younger fellow-architects. He's falling off the booze wagon and he's just fallen off his Vespa.

The last of these puts him on his back, and then in a mood for reflection. Unsettling dreams, unsettled new neighbours andan uncertain personal/professional future send him searching for purpose in a very contemporary Auckland - "a hodge-podge" to his architect's eyes - of Rangitoto, mangroves, immigrant families navigating the shopping malls, cafes with loud-voiced students in singlets.

It's a novel crackling with edgy characters and relationships. Rudy's father wanted visual and emotional minimalism; his mother wants to embrace every ethnic world. His daughters bicker. His wife is obsessed with Twitter but not with Rudy.

There's a pregnant young ex-Brethren wild child. There's an artist who plans an exhibition of dead possums dressed in leather jackets and carrying switchblades.

Yes, I liked that, too.

But idealistic, imperfect Rudy is the centre, all through a narrative that surges in many directions, yet remains attentively, respectfully focused on his struggles to reassemble and redefine himself.

He still flushes with pride when he sees his own house, "my one uncompromised creation".

He loves the making of things, shaping a model "as white as the Snow Queen's palace". He's fighting against a professional life where clients want the safe rather than the striking.

Rudy's trade means we do get a lot of decor details: the le Corbusier chaise longue; the indoor-outdoor flow; the Marimekko aprons. It also means we get a thoughtful look at the interfaces between creativity and compromise.

Our man makes false starts and takes wrong turns. He gets betrayed.

He descends into neglect and withdrawal, followed by a search through water and darkness (and Smith & Caughey's cafe) for revelations, some of which he finds via glass rooms, a picnic, downsizing. There's a tenuous but satisfying redemption.

Sarah Laing's writing is richly responsive to the physical world. Glittering, bitchy dialogue is mixed nicely with moments of quiet.

And of course she's an artist as well as an author. So Vintage's handsome production interleaves text with pages of her compact, crafted black and white images.

They echo and extend moods or moments, and they acknowledge Rudy's own lifelong deity.

Laing's next project is a graphic novel on Katherine Mansfield. Definitely another one to look forward to from her.

- NZ Herald

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