Francis Spufford || Light Perpetual

Booker Prize Longlist 2021


During the Blitz five children are killed in London in 1944. Spufford has given them a second chance in Light Perpetual: the bomb does not drop, they keep on living. What will happen next? Does the world change, does it become a better place for them not dying? Will it become clear to us that their deaths would have been a major loss to mankind? No, not really.

Vern, Jo, Valerie, Alex and Ben do not lead extraordinary lives. They do not change the world in a spectacular way. In their own way they do contribute to the well being of their fellow beings. Or not. Vern turns out to be a bully who during his entire life does not hesitate to financially abuse others as long as he benefits. Valerie falls for an extremely unpleasant ultra-right man who takes her along in a downward spiral of violence. She has to wait for his death to start making amends.

The five, with a single short-termed exception, live the lives of the average human being. Or rather, Londoner. School, work, falling in love, depression, marriage, getting children, growing old, worrying about your children, getting a welcome second chance, contributing in a small personal way to a society that is quite all right, all comes by. And since the novel has a span of some 65 year, Spufford through the five treats us to (major) changes in society.

The head of the school in the fifties not believing any of his pupils will succeed. The rise of the neo-Nazis as well as that of pop music and flower power. The rol of unions becoming less and less as an effect of new technologies changing work. Jobs that become superfluous or come into existence. Better medicine and health care that enable patients to become full members of society. From living in your own bubble to sharing life and love with Black British from the Commonwealth. Spufford uses it all.

Ligth Perpetual starts with the energy of the bomb. That energy she has translated into words in a magical way. She presents us with an energetic stream of words with an exceptional amount of adjectives and detailed descriptions. Fats, witty, colourful, describing the world in such a manner iet becomes almost tangible, almost manic.

And next you notice the speed slowing down. Gradually. With the growing of the years, the aging of the characters the energy of the language slows down as wel. From an explosion of expertly chosen words Ligth Perpetual transforms into a steadily flowing stream of words, carefully fitted into complex sentences. Francis Spufford would never fit into accessible reading. And am I glad she does not! The fun of writing jumps of her pages, resulting in major pleasure whilst reading sentences that comprise at least half a page. I did so enjoy myself!

Spufford has chosen to take big steps in time. She does not takes us along in synchronic lives, she jumps ahead taking major leaps. Which is kind of a pity considering I would have loved to have read about the intervening years. On the other hand it stresses the feeling of time going faster and faster the older you get, it stresses the inevitability of time passing and growing old. After each leap we meet the five again; the number of pages dedicated to them differs every time, in this way showing differences and similarities between them. Apart from their age, the five have little in common.

Spufford has written a clever novel that does require attention from the reader, certainly at the explosive start. It contains that many words in that many complex sentences I had to go back several times in order to grasp what was being said. That same explosiveness made it almost into a sport to continue reading. Gradually going from an intensive workout to a steady pace at the end, feeling satisfied and content with the effort. I loved it. Well done!

About booksandliliane

I am an avid reader and love to share my love for literature. I have my own opinion on books that have been shortlisted, laureated by critics or are pushed on us by bookstores. I will try and explain why I like or do not like a book. Hopefully influencing you in your choice of books to read.
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