Tale of hapless architect 'witty, detailed, emotional'

THE FALL OF LIGHT<br><b>Sarah Laing</b><br><i>Vintage</i>
THE FALL OF LIGHT<br><b>Sarah Laing</b><br><i>Vintage</i>
Rudy is 42 and his life is beginning to crumble.

He's an architect, but his visions for buildings are too fanciful for his prosaic clients.

He's a workaholic, never present for his family, so his wife has left him, taking their two daughters with her. He was adopted just after his birth, and has refused to face his long-standing concerns about who his real parents are. And then he has a major accident on his Vespa, nearly dies, and finds himself having to see things differently.

Material for another gloomy New Zealand novel, you'd think, but Laing's telling of the story is witty, detailed, emotional, full of characters who have extravagant interests, and full of the richness of its Auckland setting.

Rudy tells his own tale, and Laing does extremely well in conveying and sustaining the voice and personality of her male narrator.

She has a sharp eye for a wide range of human character: Rudy's New Age arty-crafty pregnant neighbour, who wants him to husband her, so it seems, but only up to a certain point. His artist friend, the wild man in contrast to Rudy's staidness and repressions, who thinks the old house he's inhabiting is haunted, and has set up cameras to catch the ghosts. His mother, who spends all her time caring for refugees; his deceased father, who made detailed models for one of Auckland's museums. His wife, who seems to despise him, and yet ...

This is a book about artists of all kinds - the only sporty person in it is a surfer, who barely makes any impression on the reader.

The book focuses on architecture as art, and Rudy spends a great deal of his time drawing and making wonderful models of buildings he'll never build. There are also drawings by Laing intermingled with the text, which relate to Rudy's dreams and visions. I couldn't quite get to grips with these, but other reviewers have enjoyed them.

Books primarily about relationships can lack forward movement, and suspense, but Laing keeps us guessing until well towards the end as to how Rudy's future will pan out.

A very enjoyable read.

- Mike Crowl is a Dunedin writer, musician and composer.

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