Light Perpetual

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I picked up this book from Portsmouth Public Library due to a rave from Pun Salad fave Alan Jacobs. It's good! Although not my usual fare.

It springs from an actual, horrific, historical event: the V2 bombing of November 25, 1944 which destroyed a Woolworths in southeast London, along with everyone inside at the time. A total of 168 people were killed, including 5 children: Alec, Ben, Jo, Val, and Vern. The author, Francis Spufford, builds his novel in the alternate universe where, for whatever reason, the V2 was diverted or delayed, and those kids lived on. What happened?

A lot, as it turns out. We check in with the characters in 1949, 1964, 1979, 1994, and 2009; their lives are full of twists and surprises. Alec turns into a bit of a sassy weisenheimer in grade school, moves on to get a union job as a linotype operator at the Times, an unfortunately doomed profession. (I note my spell-checker no longer recognizes "linotype" as a word.) Ben develops a crippling mental illness, but then… Jo's musical talent takes her to sunny California for a bit, while sister Val makes an unfortunate life choice in marrying an actual skinhead Nazi. And opera-loving Vern has dreams of becoming a real estate mogul, and if he has to scam a soccer star in the process, well….

Francis Spufford's prose is (at times) beautifully ornate, deserving of slow and thoughtful reading. And a lot of Britishisms, many of which I got, others… oh, well. All main characters are drawn with complexity and sympathy.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 3:37 PM EDT