REVIEW: Go to Sleep (I Miss You) – Lucy Knisley

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Author: Lucy Knisley (twitter / instagram / website)

UK Publisher: First Second

Genre: Non-fiction, autobiography, comics

Also see: Something New; Kid Gloves

Lucy Knisley is one of the great memoirists of the graphic novel format. Following the completion of her pregnancy memoir Kid Gloves (and the birth of her baby), Lucy embarked on a new project: documenting new motherhood in short, spontaneous little cartoons, which she posted on her Instagram, and which quickly gained her a huge cult following among other mums. The best of those wildly popular little cartoons are collected in this adorable gift book, a perfect read for expecting parents, new parents, and anyone who loves funny, relatable comics storytelling.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Lucy Knisley, and that I particularly enjoy her graphic memoir work. After the monster projects that were Something New and Kid Gloves, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is something very different. It lacks the structure and formality of the other two memoirs, which were about specific periods of Knisley’s life, each with a defined end point. Both took a lot of time and energy to write, and Kid Gloves was done around having a small baby, after a fairly traumatic birth experience.

Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is compiled of the sketches that Knisley drew while she was navigating the early stages of her son’s life. Arranged thematically rather than chronologically, there’s no narrative push to take you from start to finish. Instead, you have a collection of stand-alone sketches so that you can open the book at any stage and have a complete experience. It’s art drawn around parenting a newborn, but it’s also a perfect book to read around having a newborn. There’s no story to follow, no jokes you need context for, nothing expands over more than two pages. If you’re sleep deprived and feeling lonely as a new parent, you can flick open this book and odds are good you’ll find something inside that echoes something you’ve thought at least once.

While I do love Knisley’s work, one of the things I really enjoy about her autobiographical books is her reflection on her own experiences, and on the cultural and historical contexts that surround her subject matter. Her formal memoirs are deeply researched and absolutely fascinating to read, as that research is then filtered through Knisley’s own experiences and how she understands the world around her. This book isn’t that, it’s entirely personal. Rather than casting her net out into the wide world and using that to frame her experiences and understand them, this book is set completely inside the little bubble of her family. It’s entirely personal, and without reflection or structure.

The personal and narrative-free nature of the book and the simple, black-and-white drawings perhap give it something in common with The Fire Never Goes Out, except it also lacks the framing device of the blog posts, or the very basic chronological structure. It shares the same immediacy of thought, and is given no context aside from that. This is unusual for my experience of Knisley’s printed work, although I’m used to seeing her share these comics online through her instagram and patreon. It’s very fitting for the subject matter and the time of her life, however. Marriage and pregnancy are times that are innately full of planning and thought and waiting, but early parenthood is full of chaos and snatched moments of peace. Having a book be less structured and reflective really encapsulates through time through form as well as execution.

The downside of this, however, is that I didn’t get as connected to the book as I did to her previous ones. There are thoughts and feelings that don’t land with me – and that’s entirely natural, and reasonable. It’s not a book for me, it’s a book by a new parent, aimed at new parents. It’s there for readers to feel less alone in some of the craziness that comes in the early months of a new baby. I actually bought two copies of this book – one for me, and one for a very dear friend who has a two-year-old and a 10-month old. I’ve seen mothers I know sharing some of the shorter comics that were posted online, clearly relating to and engaging with the stories.

It doesn’t sit with Kid Gloves and Something New, and First Second have designed it differently too. Rather than a paperback with a full-colour matte cover, this is a square hardback with limited colours and a laminated finish. It’s robust, perfect for jamming in a nappy bag or on a shelf near the nursing chair. It’s easy to hold, to flick through one-handed while pinned under a baby that will scream if you put them down. They’ve thought about their audience in every way and it works for them.

While I am pleased I have this collection, I know that I would be delighted to get Knisley’s thoughts on the early period of motherhood in another one of her memoir-style books too.

Briefly:

  • A collection of sketches inspired by parenthood and designed to be dipped in and out of at leisure.
  • It doesn’t have the narrative structure or cultural research that Knisley puts into her memoir titles, it’s all personal, but it chimes universally to the new parent experience in many places.
  • If you’re looking for a fun gift for a new parent, this might be just the ticket. It’s warm and loving, while entirely encapsulating just how strange parenthood is.

Rating: 4/5 – I’m happy this book exists so I can buy it for my friends with babies.

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