The Fall of Light by Sarah Laing (Vintage 2013)
Rudy, the lead character in Sarah Laing’s novel, is an architect whose wife and kids have left him because of his workaholic habits. Despite the long hours his business is not being awarded new projects because Rudy is struggling to execute what he considers are his clients conservative proposals; he wants to design signature buildings to make a name for himself. When the clients decline Rudy’s extravagant designs he makes models of the structures in his studio. On top of all this, Rudy comes off his Vespa and the accident nearly kills him.
The extravagance of the buildings he designs seems to relate to Rudy’s fantasy life, a dreamscape he has retreated to because his real life is quickly unravelling. Everything has become about surfaces, about how they look, rather than being practical spaces for people to live and work in. Like in Pip Adam’s book, the buildings (or in this case model buildings) seem to act as a projection of the self, how Rudy would like to present himself to the world.
As Rudy slowly recovers from his accident he hangs out with his childhood friend Greg, and meets his neighbour Laura who is pregnant. Laura got kicked out of her restrictive life with the Brethren when she was 16 because she had a child out of wedlock, a child she was made to give up. Laura’s story triggers an emotional response from Rudy because he was adopted, but up until his accident he had not seriously entertained contacting his birth parents. His relationship with Laura gives Rudy an insight into what it is like for a mother who has to give up her child. Throughout the novel Rudy gradually confronts his adoption, feelings of abandonment, and his need to belong.
While the narrative is unfolding, amongst the words there are illustrations that don’t merely reflect the action but are part of the story. The drawings show Rudy’s dreams which are pertinent to the story and project his subconscious. It is a very clever way of showing the subconscious thoughts in a first person narrative where the character is not initially expressive about his feelings. It is a unique feature and one that blends in seamlessly with the text without seeming like gimmick.
What is nice about the narrative is how it shows how people come into your life when you need them. Okay, I know the novel is constructed, but I like the characterisation of Laura and her openness, and how willing she is to help Rudy, and how in turn he helps her when her child is born. Laura and Rudy are such contrasting characters, Laura is a hippy and Rudy is a middle-class snob, but they have fundamental issues in common, that of adoption and abandonment, they come together and in some ways they are a mother and son who adopt each other. I like how they make a community, and how they both have a sense of belonging.
Usually when I read a story to review, certain parts of the book will trigger a response in me and I start thinking of things to write for the review. I didn’t with this book. I initially thought that Rudy was a bit of a wanker, to be frank, but he loses his wankerism and becomes likeable as the narrative progresses and he starts to share more of his feelings. The illustrations are also initially thought provoking but ultimately explained in the text. As much as I enjoyed the relationships in the novel, and having a front row seat to Rudy’s midlife crisis, it’s not a novel I can imagine having an impassioned argument about. Perhaps it’s because everything is explained in the narrative, there are no silences to deliberate.