Monday, 1 November 2021

Light Perpetual - Francis Spufford (2020)


Rating: Excellent

Another book club read, this time an excellent one. Knowing nothing about the author my hopes were not high, thinking it may be a bland recreation of post-war history via the lives of those that survived. Instead Light Perpetual takes its premise, that the children and adults that had died in a V2 strike in London (based on actual events as noted on a plaque outside a building the author walked past nearly every day) in fact survive, and runs with it splendidly. Spufford is a sophisticated writer with a nimble, yet beautifully descriptive style. The novel was a total pleasure to read, his prose is beautifully balanced, with nothing overdone or out of place. Apparently Spufford was a specialist non-fiction author until the age of fifty two when his first novel was published, Golden Hill (2016). Perhaps that is why Perpetual Light is the reverse of what seems to pass for middle-brow literary fiction these days, with average at best novels that come across as popular fiction aspiring to be literary fiction.

Spufford follows the lives of five of the children that live via specific time periods - 1949, 1964, 1979, 1994 and 2009. Spufford explores the culture and history of each period and how that effects the characters lives. Perhaps the most effecting is Ben, who suffers from mental illness (schizophrenia it seems). Ben's section in 1979 is perhaps the novel's highlight, although for many it would be an excruciating read. Ben battles his paranoid delusions whist working as a bus conductor on a day that eventually leads him to a confrontation with a group of skinheads. It's almost too much to bear, however you can't help but admire Spufford's incredible insight and skill in revealing what it might be like to suffer from a debilitating mental illness. This is what literature is all about, allowing insight into others lives that hopefully results in understanding and compassion. The other characters stories are full of everything from bathos, pathos, redemption and servings of some just desserts for one particular character, but once again, nothing is overdone and everything is perfectly in its place. I'm impressed, and it takes a lot for current novels to impress me these days.

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