While I was on a short vacation, I finished a fictional novel of a little-known black dancer of the 1840s, William Henry Lane, or Master Juba. And I guess I was in the mood for stories of real, but not necessarily extremely famous people, because then I started Suzanne: The Jazz Age Goddess of Tennis. Which is a memoir of Suzanne Lenglen, a French female tennis player. She was known, at the time worldwide, but she was not necessarily known for her tennis playing back then. Instead, she was known for her banter with journalists, her flapper lifestyle, fashionable clothing on and off the court (while playing, she wore short skirts to give her better movement), and for a more masculine playing style.
This is an interesting memoir/biography of a tennis player who paved the way for not just women in tennis, but for fashion and standing up for the equality she deserved. Tom Humberstone starts this graphic novel near the end of her life, then flashing back to her glory years. We see a little of her youth, but mostly her life while playing tennis is highlighted. We see some of the people of the time, and how she responses to them (her difficult relationship with her parents, her best friend and doubles partner, Bunny, and not to mention the other players). And we see the era itself, plus things like the contradictions of her lifestyle vs the books she wrote (such as never drinking or staying up late as the imagery behind the words shows champagne, dancing, and parties), we see the world of tennis and how cutthroat it was. We see why a stadium has her name, how Wimbledon was never the same. We see all of this and more unfolding in simple, not simplistic illustrations. The color is minimal but does give off a classical feeling. If it was not for this woman, who knows if the world of tennis would have seen the likes of the Williams sisters.
While I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the personal life of this player, overall, it is presented in an interesting and creative way. Each reader will pick their own favorite parts. I had several such as the differences between her lifestyle in France vs. the supposedly Prohibition lifestyle of the states, and I liked how we see people by words and some actions. I also liked how some wording was done to “give the picture” but not throwing it in your face (such as one of her best friends might be charming, but he preferred the men’s game, “if you know what the speaker means.”) Some events were changed for dramatic effect, but it sounds like Lenglen would not have minded a little embellishment as it seems she enjoyed a good story as much as the truth. She was one wild lady and one I think I might look into more.