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June 1, 2012 / thatsarahdean

Book Review: Please God, find me a husband! by Simone Lia

First published in Third Way magazine, June 2012.

The title Please God, find me a husband! sounds like a terrifying Christian self-help book, or a jokey tome to buy your single friend for her thirtieth birthday, thankfully Simone Lia’s new book is neither of these. It is a joyful, hilarious, life affirming story “for spinsters, seekers of enlightenment and lovers of graphic novels.”

Simone Lia’s illustrations are delightfully simple with bold felt tip lines, a nod to her background in children’s books, but do not be mistaken this autobiographical story is undoubtedly for adults. Lia is expert at dealing with heavy weight subjects using the seeming lightweight form of the cartoon. She is a friendly, self-deprecating storyteller, who tackles the difficult and emotional territory of faith and relationships with humour and honesty. In Please God… she deals with singleness, belief and childhood trauma via guitar playing trees, muffin baking nuns and God riding a BMX.  Her honest and open narrative style ensures that despite the sweet illustrations, the book is neither cutesy nor vapid.

The story begins with 33 year old Simone walking through central London. She has just been dumped…worse than that dumped by email. She tells God that if he wants her to get married or be happy, then he needs to get a move on. Surprisingly God answers her prayer through the lyrics of an INXS song! And so begins our heroine’s “Adventure with God”- a spiritual journey that takes Lia half way round the world to Australia by way of rainy Wales where she serves as ‘a temporary nun’. Along the way she has encounters with a Crocodile Dundee look alike, a rather disappointing hermit and on several occasions, God himself.

Lia is a likeable heroine. She’s an ordinary Londoner who happens to be a Christian Some of her friends happen to be nuns, (fun ones who sing along to The Sound of Music in the car). Her faith is ordinary and matter of fact. She talks to God when she is on her bike. She constantly questions whether she is merely deluding herself.

Christian readers will recognise in Simone’s story their own shortcomings laid out in excruciating and hilarious detail. For example Lia takes part in a silent meditation. After three wordless frames, we see her thoughts, she is thinking about lunch. By the bottom of the page, she is completely distracted, looking around at the other people praying – “I don’t think I’m praying right.”

Throughout the book Lia playfully uses the comic frame format to add an extra dimension to the narrative. Her pictures underline or cleverly undermine the written words. For example Lia is disappointed that nothing dramatic happened during her retreat. She had been hoping for – “a drama or a conflict that was miraculously resolved and fun to draw.” This frame is of course illustrated by a drawing of an exciting and miraculous drama.

For every sweet squeaking suitcase or Roger Hargreave-esque snake saying “Harrumph”, there are more challenging images and episodes exploring the struggle of personal faith.  A single frame of a scribbled tree, eloquently expresses the seeming loneliness of prayer for example.  A particularly moving sequence features Lia imagining herself walking around the streets of Jericho in Biblical times, and she, instead of Zacchaeus, gets called down from the tree as the real sinner.

The real joy of this book is that Simone Lia is not afraid to tell a story that is so uncompromisingly honest that it has none of the convenience of being neat and easy to tell. This fact is further underlined in a rather meta scene where Simone is pictured sitting in church worrying about her book proposal – for the book we are reading – her publisher has suggested that it’s content might not have “commercial potential”.

Fortunately for us Lia persuaded Jonathan Cape to let her tell her story, her way.  Please God, find me a husband! explains what it is like to be an ordinary person of faith struggling with singleness in a way that is both moving and honest, witty and endearing, as well as accessible and appealing to a wide audience of all faiths and none.

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