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Reviews

The Fall of Light

“What makes the novel work is that the characters are strong. None of them are especially likeable, but they are wholly credible. Laing has little difficulty creating credible males: both Rudy, with his
paroxysms of possessive jealousy, and his best mate Greg ring true, as does their occasionally turbulent mateship. Laura is interesting, too, and the moment when Rudy’s character and the novel both come alive is when Greg’s mother arrives to look after him, and gives him a shave. The intimacy, the resonances of their relationship when he was a boy, the ghost of her husband and his father … it’s a well- drawn, nuanced human moment. It feels real.” – John McCrystal, NZ Books

“This is a very readable novel, easily Laing’s most refined work yet. It strikes an agreeable balance between the comic and the tender and I love the defined characters, lovely domestic details and quietly dry humour. Laing’s scenes are vivid and bright and the ending is satisfying indeed.” Kiran Dass, Landfall Review Online

“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. . . . She has a sharp eye for a wide range of human character . . . Laing keeps us guessing until well towards the end as to how Rudy’s future will pan out. A very enjoyable read.” – Mark Crowl, Otago Daily Times

“It’s a novel crackling with edgy characters and relationships . . . a thoughtful look at the interfaces between creativity and compromise. . . . 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.” – David Hill, Weekend Herald

“Laing successfully captures the ecosystem of a broken family: desires, longing, shorthand, warmth and disappointment. With her flawed characters, she narrates the cultural zeitgeist and emotional circumference of a certain type of New Zealander and a certain type of New Zealand. . . . Laing has created a novel that pulls you towards a couch or early into bed; a comfort of words, The Fall of Light is very well designed.” – Lily Richards, NZ Listener

“. . . the writing is clever and witty and all the individual story lines weave together. Adding to the story is Laing’s incredible ink-wash drawings which are interspersed within the text. It was a hold move to add the drawings, but strangely it works . . . With strong characters and an evocative setting this is a beautiful but powerful story you won’t be able to put down.” – Rebekah Fraser, Greymouth Evening Star

“The protagonist of Sarah Laing’s new book The Fall of Light is a kind of character you don’t see very often in contemporary literature. Even though he’s an imaginary person, Rudy Chapelle’s complex sense of self comes through Laing’s first-person narrative so strongly that it took nearly half the book before I felt I understood his personality adequately. He is stubborn, highly emotional but self-consciously gruff, likeable but infuriating. Above all, he’s memorable and original.…With its focus firmly on inner-city Auckland rather than tired back-country archetypes, The Fall of Light offers a fresh new perspective on life as a New Zealander through irresistible characters. I loved it.” – Sarah Dunn, Nelson Mail

‘As with all of her writing, the conjuring of people and places is wonderful, and she is one of those wonderful authors who makes the somewhat ordinary extraordinary (in this case, in the vein of suburban tragedy, a man nearing middle age losing his job, with his wife having left him, taking their daughters with her) – which is one of my favourite writerly talents. Don’t get me wrong, I love a well-executed plot-driven masterwork as much as the next person (haven’t I waxed lyrical about The Luminaries and Margaret Atwood enough?) but I also love stories that come to me relatively simple and perfectly formed, like a continuation of what makes a good short story. Some authors make the transition with varying degrees of success – I have many feelings about certain authors’ novels as versus their short stories, but that’s another post for another occasion – but she does it perfectly.’ – Briar Lawry

Dead People’s Music

Carole Beu on Radio New Zealand National, 02.04.09

‘It’s wonderful…fantastic… I will watch for it in the book awards next year…it’s one of the best first New Zealand books I have ever read. [The places are] very vividly drawn… it’s a marvellous journey that [Rebecca] goes on… There’s this junk collecting flatmate, Wendy…she’s wonderfully evoked. You are repulsed by her and drawn to her at the same time… very strongly drawn. This is clever, clever writing, strong characters, wonderfully evoked setting and I highly recommend it.’

Link to hear the review

Jolisa Gracewood, New Zealand Listener, 11.04.09

‘Dead People’s Music is that rare and lovely thing: a first novel that doesn’t try too hard. Faint praise? Au contraire: this is a work of subtlety and charm. With understated skill, Sarah Laing…explores the complicated art of taking what your given – in this case, musical talent and a double-edged family legacy – and (forgive the American Idol phraseology) making it your own… Laing keeps things low-key, avoiding grandiose revelations: Rebecca works her way towards satisfyingly ordinary solutions, not without ambivalence, but with a grudging concession to life’s ragged edges…What makes this novel so enjoyable is Laing’s splendid grasp of specifics…Wellington, London, New York fairly pop off the page…Laing’s matter-of-fact incorporation of this material lends a surprising and gratifying extra dimension to a novel already brimming with narrative pleasures.’

Read full review

Warwick Roger, North & South, May 2009

‘[Sarah Laing] has come up with a cracker of a first novel…[She] is great on the detail of daily routines and household relationships. She is good, too, on the daily grind of living with diabetes and the yoke of having a musical talent not fully realised…Rebecca’s voyage around her great-aunt and tug of love between the former London boyfriend and her current beau form the fulcrum of an extremely complex but deeply affecting story.’

Maggie Rainey Smith, Beattie’s Book Blog, 29.04.09

I highly recommend this novel. Think somewhere between Zoe Heller and Zadie Smith. It is a book that takes itself seriously while being witty and insightful, tender and scathing, smart and innocent, fast-paced and even a little bit disgusting (description of zits on a mirror) as well as delightful. It takes big subjects (Jewish war orphan, the cello, immigration, first love, sex, and a marriage proposal) and it renders them not as melodramas, but as somehow extraordinarily ordinary. The prose is utterly confident and never seems to falter.

Read full review

 

Coming Up Roses

Curtis Sittenfeld (American Wife, Prep, The Man of My Dreams), Domini0n Post, 08.12.07

‘Sarah Laing’s story collection…was wonderful. A lot of the stories are about girls or young women, and the characters’ observations are hilarious, heartbreaking, irreverent and always honest. Laing has a great sense of imagery and detail, and her writing is quirky but in a very real way – the story about a teenager getting confirmed, attending a church camp and becoming slightly deranged with lust over a boy she hardly knows is particularly priceless.’

NZ Listener, 08.12.07 – Best Books of 2007

‘This dark, straight-talking collection – the local debut of the year, perhaps – explores the tense, unhappy relationships of the middle classes, with settings that range from New York City to a North Island pie factory. Writing with confidence, economy and wit, Wellington writer Laing makes the most of her slivers of life, and she’s a No 8 kind of girl, designing her own book cover!’

Paula Morris, New Zealand Listener, 08/09/07

‘Sarah Laing is our next great short-story writer…Sarah Laing is a real talent…Laing seems to be a writer of intelligence and wit: I look forward to more stories, more books.’

Siobhan Harvey, The Press, August 2007

‘Tight structure, taut authorial control and tense, inventive word-play and imagery…With their lyrical language, reverberating spectrum of subjects and emotions and adept arrangements, the stories in Coming Up Roses are proof positive of both Laing’s impressive talent and the strength of domestic short-story writing.’

John McCrystal, Radio New Zealand National, July 2007

“The writing is excellent… a nicely balanced and nuanced collection”

Kerri Jackson, Herald on Sunday, 22.07.07

‘…Laing has a moody, often dream-like writing style that suits the inner lives of her characters and keeps you engaged through each vignette.’

Heather Talbott, Timaru Herald, 18.08.07

‘Sarah Laing writes well-crafted stories with colour, humour and originality – the sort you want to read again.’

Warwick Roger, North & South, 31.08.07

‘With this book Laing offers us a glimpse of a rising star at work.’

Kim Worthington, Dominion Post, 11.08.07

‘Sarah Laing can certainly write. Coming up Roses, her first collection, clearly vindicates her win of last year’s Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition. Laing’s confidence is everywhere apparent in the stylistic diversity of the 19 stories: bold imagery, bold content, bold narration…Most striking is her vivid description and detail…Throughout are evocative phrases that reveal a clear delight in the texture of things, as much as the words that describe them…Throughout there’s this fine eye for quirky, and often telling, detail.’

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