2021 Booker Prize Longlist: Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

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2021 Booker Prize Longlist: Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

Aug 6, 2021, 12:05 pm

This thread is for discussion of Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford. No unhidden spoilers, please.

Aug 10, 2021, 2:10 pm

I finished this one a few days ago and decided to hold off reviewing it to let my thoughts marinate a bit. I think it's safe to say that I was disappointed for a few different reasons. Spufford got the idea for the story from a plaque commemorating an incident that happened in 1944 when a bomb was dropped on a London area Woolworth store and 168 people were killed. He wondered what would happen to those lost lives if the bomb never happened and this book was a result. It starts off strongly - I absolutely loved the first section where he intersperses the trajectory of the bomb with the shoppers blissfully going about their business. He writes in such minute detail and it really sets the scene. I was hooked and couldn't wait to continue.

Spufford decided to choose a group of kids (entirely fictitious) and he re-imagined their lives with no bombing. The rest of the novel is split into different voices and we get a peek into each life every 15 years or so as they age. This sounded like a cool premise for a novel so I was rather excited to see where he went with it. As I read on, the problems started.

First of all, the whole reason for the book is to write an alternative ending to the bombing, but there was nothing in their lives that even remotely links to that bombing. It's a collection of stories about various people who grow up in the shadow of WWII. If he skipped the part about the bomb, it would have been the same story. Heck, it could have been a story about five kids who went to elementary school together and it would have been the same story. I actually stopped reading at one point and went off to look up reviews just to see if I had missed some major detail. Oddly enough, I found that most professional reviews gave the novel glowing praise while most individual reviews brought up the same issues I had with it.

Without that focal point, the novel is just a look at the various lives of five children. If he wrote about five children surviving the bomb and how it affected them throughout their lives, it would have made a lot more sense. As it was, my irritation with the lack of connection overshadowed everything else and I found most of the novel to be a slog.

Now maybe someone else can read this one and tell me what I missed!