Light Perpetual

Quality writing, detailed descriptions and characters with depth pull you in to this story.

Book title

Light Perpetual

Author

Francis Spufford

Standalone or series

Standalone

First time reading this author?

Yes

Why I picked this

It sounded like an unusual sci-fi crossed with It’s A Wonderful Life.

Review copy or purchase

Thank you to the author, publishers Faber & Faber and online book club The Pigeonhole for the opportunity to read this book for free. This is an honest and voluntary review.

What it’s about

November 1944. A German rocket strikes London, and five young lives are atomised in an instant.

November 1944. That rocket never lands. A single second in time is altered, and five young lives go on – to experience all the unimaginable changes of the twentieth century. 

Because maybe there are always other futures. Other chances.

Review

I’ve had to take a couple of days after finishing Light Perpetual to formulate this review. It’s a book which clearly has something to say, although I’m not sure I entirely got what that was. I suspect this would be a good subject for indepth book club discussions or literary analysis, because there’s a lot of substance to it.

This is a story about five lives. Five different people who we visit at various intervals. Twins Val and Jo – Val who marries a racist local right-wing leader and Jo who travels the world following her music. Vern who takes every opportunity to scheme and make money, not caring who he has to take advantage of. Alec the  trade unionist finding a new future after technology replaces his first career. And, Ben suffering mental ill health at a time when it wasn’t recognised

All their lives have ups and downs. The good and the bad. The quality of the writing. The detail of the descriptions. The insight into the characters. It all allows the reader to get emotionally involved.

My only hesitation, the bit I’m not sure I ‘got’, is the underlying premise. The book starts with the five as children in a shop which is bombed in World War II. Then we step aside, change what happened just enough so that the five survive. But, that change of timeline, of narrative reality, doesn’t appear to have any further impact on the story. The time jumps all related back to the bombing, with the heading of each section called T+ the years which have passed since the bomb didn’t hit them. Yet there’s no further plot relevance that I can see. No explicit unravelling of their lives or the lives they impacted which would have been different if they hadn’t survived. That’s where I think the book may lend itself to deeper analysis. But, as an everyday reader I’m not sure what that starting point meant for the whole book.

Strong characters and great writing make this an easy to recommend book. However, replace the opening chapter with five children of similar age playing in the same playpark one day then follow their separate lives, and I don’t think the end result would have been any different.

Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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