Sarah Lightman’s ‘The Book of Sarah’

June 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Until January of this year when I heard Sarah Lightman speak at a Literary Salon, I had little knowledge of the graphic novel. Through slides, illustrating both her own work and the work of other graphic novelists, Sarah showed the capacity of pictures, elucidated by a few words, to evoke emotions more powerfully than words alone.

In one graphic novel, a woman (who longs for a child) tells her friend that she is pregnant. The friend advises her that most women don’t reveal an early pregnancy, in case the child miscarries. ‘Oh.’ the heroine says. We anticipate that she will lose the child, and she does. How poignant and effective that one ‘Oh.’ is.

Memoirs are popular in the graphic form. Sarah’s, The Book of Sarah, has been evolving for over fifteen years. While still a student at the Slade School of Art, Sarah had an impulse to draw about her life, and she was inspired by Charlotte Salomon’s Life? or Theatre? Although she was not then working towards The Book of Sarah, the impulse to draw about her life persisted. Its very persistence suggested importance.

Sarah continued, and the drawings began to assume a shape: they were the story of her life. She would call that story The Book of Sarah.

When I talked to Sarah, in April, about The Book of Sarah, I was trying to formulate my reaction to her title, wasn’t it—

‘Presumptuous.’ Sarah said.

Presumptuous, in a way, I thought, but also brave.

By giving her memoir a Biblical-style title, she is making a statement. Is she not saying, my life, my ordinary life, in which I have neither waged wars nor been involved in politics, is a life worth recording? And also, the unregarded stories of women are worth recording too.

Like the lives of many women’s in the Bible, Sarah’s might go uncharted. She is depicting, for the most part, everyday things that another might consider too mundane to document. But she does not exclude emotional moments, see Dumped Before Valentine’s.

The drawings that form the basis of Sarah’s graphic memoir were made contemporaneous with the events shown. So she is relying less on her memory than many writers of memoirs.

Where is The Book of Sarah? It is being compiled; the drawings are being selected and arranged. However, you can have a preview of some of the drawings by looking at Sarah’s website.


The Book of Sarah, a visual autobiography, will be published by Myriad Editions in 2015.

Laydeez do Comics, a forum for female graphic novelists to talk about their work. They meet in Foyles, once a month (excluding July) on Mondays. The next meeting is Monday, 19th August at 6 pm.


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