Page 45 Review by Stephen
Your prayers have been answered! From the creator of FLUFFY, one of our all-time favourite graphic novels, comes an autobiographical episode in which Simone, recently dumped by email, begins to fret at still being single aged thirty-three, asks God if he can fix it for her to find a husband, then dances with Him to INXS. This is Simone Lia we're talking about, after all. Quickly she comes to the conclusion that what she really needs is "an adventure with God" which she plans and lays out to Him, in a room down the hall:
"Okay, so I like the idea of hazards and excitement. That sounds great. I was thinking that perhaps we could go to the outback somewhere in Australia. We'll visit a religious hermit in a remote location. And then I thought it would be good if I have a near-death experience. It would be an interesting near-death experience. Probably involving animals, dangerous ones."
God's expression at this point is a picture. He surreptitiously swipes Simone's best laid plans to inspect the details
and presumably check that He's in them.
"Then at some point I meet a gorgeous man. We fall in love. No, he falls in love with me. I'm unsure about him but he manages to woo me. Let me write that bit down. At this point we'll probably be in Sydney. This will give us a chance to go to some trendy parties. Then I suppose I have to go back. I'll be here and he'll be there. We won't be able to see each other - that's not good. Why is life so complicated? Maybe you can sort something out so that we can be together. A little miracle would be lovely, please.
"Anyway - I'll leave this with you to mull over. I'll get googling for hermits."
"With hindsight," writes Simone, "I wish that I'd waited to hear what God thought, what His plans were for me. I'd not heard of the expression: If you want to make God laugh, show him your plans."
Sure enough God has a good old chuckle. And a sigh.
What follows is indeed an adventure with God which eventually lands her in Australia with a friend where she meets a real hermit - and a man! - but I've no intention of revealing how that goes down. It begins, however, in a far more contemplative manner at The Society Of Our Lady Of The Trinity community in Wales. Population: four. There she and her friend Sister Mary visit sick parishioners, reflect on the Gospel together and back at the community they meditate on the charity of Christ. Well that's the idea, but Simone swiftly slips into meditating instead on an email from her publisher questioning a book's 'commercial potential' - and then descends into brooding on her own abject worthlessness. Even during the act of Adoration, kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacraments, Simone is prone to distraction and wonders if the two weeks are working for her. They are working for her, splendidly, but before the gain there comes that aphoristic pain.
"I became aware of internal wars raging. Painful memories. Fear and hurts buried in my heart. Unlikely triggers allowed feelings to surface in unexpected and spectacular fashion."
Tellingly, it's a child's teddy-bear mug inscribed with "I love you" and the break-down is immediate, tearful but ultimately cathartic.
Gradually Lia learns to relax in the tranquility of the retreat and begins to achieve a genuine sense of peace and perspective. That sense of silence is beautifully evoked in the art which opens up into quiet, sparsely populated panels in the same cool blues that pervade the book, adding their own gentle serenity, then warmed with the odd spot of flesh tones. Indeed those scenes in the kitchen and chapel are in marked contrast with the London commuters crossly cramped together and often glaring at each other with extreme irritation or even mild malevolence. Life in the city, eh?
I love everything about this book. Simone has softened then slayed the cynic in me, and I came away enormously impressed and respectful of her own love of God which never prevents her unique brand of fanciful mischief bubbling playfully to the surface. It's honest, very honest, and I would imagine that regardless of its religious content - and sometimes because of it - a lot of the territory covered here about self-love, self-doubt and even being left on the shelf will be so very familiar to many. Also, the trauma of constantly rowing parents, from a scene in which Simone as an adult revisits her younger self and remembers how it once was:
"I've turned into a block of concrete, Jesus. I feel so sad here. I want to cry. I can't start crying here. There's too much inside. I'll hold it in, I don't want to disturb anyone."
So has God found Simone Lia a husband? I'm not telling you, but you can be sure she'll be asked that forevermore. Even pre-publication it's started as evidenced by this Twitter exchange between us after I remarked that one particular panel - coloured as it was and set in the morning kitchen - could be called 'Blue Nun for Breakfast'.
"Ha ha. My builders have just knocked on my door to ask if I've found a husband. They were in the kitchen reading the book! The builder was laughing at a picture of the nun falling off her chair, then the chair that HE was sitting on broke. Was that the wrath of God?"
"No," I replied, "if it had been the WRATH of God, you'd never have had to buy rock salt AGAIN. You would, however, have needed to find a new builder."
"Ha ha. New builder and a MUCH bigger salt pot!I think probably I gave him too many hob-nobs with his tea this morning."
She probably did, too.