Book Review: Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

The idea of this book came to Francis while he has been walking past a plaque commemorating the 1944 V2 bomb attack in London that resulted in the death of 168 people, including 15 children. What if the history is altered, something had changed, and the bomb did not go off, giving a chance to these children to have a future, a full life? Based on this premise, Francis constructs rich and engaging life stories of Ben, Alec, Vernon, Jo and Val – five imaginary victims of the attack.

This “what might have been” world is created in a fictional borough of London called Bexford. Francis checks on the imagined lives of these characters every 15 years from 1949 to 2009 – depicting various phases – adolescence, youth, middle age, and old age. This is a innovative narrative choice – leaving much of their stories unsaid and asking the reader to fill in the gaps. While this is creatively challenging for the reader (I found it quite fascinating ), some may find it a little overwhelming.

Jo, who sees music in color, spends most of her life as second fiddle to her rock star boyfriend, eventually to fall in love with Claude, an ordinary man, and finds work as a music teacher.

Val, marries Mike, racist and skinhead, who eventually murders a Pakistani cab driver resulting in some prison time for her as an accomplice. Ben, suffering from paranoia, finally finds love and peace with Marsha and her extended family.

Alec, very passionate about his work as a typesetter with The Times, sees his life turned upside down when his job becomes redundant because of technological changes. Vern, a real estate developer, employing somewhat dubious ways to fund his ventures, sees many ups and downs in his business fortunes.

Five stories are running in parallel – while they share a common social and historic setting, but each is unique in terms of the characters, the challenges life throws at them, the choices they make and how they evolve over time. They love, they lose, they marry, they get separated, remarry, they get rich, they get broke, they dream and aspire, they fail to fulfil the dreams, yet find peace and happiness. As mentioned by James Walton of Daily Telegraph – Powerful . heartbreaking . [a] boundlessly rich novel.

Quotable Quotes

Come, other future. Come, mercy not manifest in time; come knowledge not obtainable in time. Come, other chances. Come, unsounded deep. Come, undivided light.

Come dust.

That’s time for you. It breaks things up. It scatters them. It cannot be run backwards, to summon the dust to rise, any more than you can stir milk back out of tea. Once sundered, forever sundered. Once scattered, forever scattered. It’s irreversible.

Light Perpetual is written by Francis Spufford and is longlisted for Booker 2021. Francis is well known for his earlier work Golden Hill and You can buy it here:

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