A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Sudden LiA Sudden Lightght, by Garth Stein, is a book that I find difficult to rate or categorize, because it was both more, and less, than I expected. On the one hand, it was an enjoyable and easy read, one which included many tantalizing elements.

For example, A Sudden Light includes:
1. a haunted house
2. ghosts
3. a mystery
4. dual-time narratives
5. hidden staircases
6. hidden journals
7. secrets, secrets, and more secrets

On top of this, the setting, an area of beautiful, untamed woods just outside of Seattle, Washington, and the historical fiction element relating to John Muir and a love of nature, were a fascinating touch.

However, part of what didn’t work for me was that the author tried to fit SO MUCH into the story that I had a hard time figuring out what it was really about.
Furthermore, I’ve seen A Sudden Light categorized as both a young adult and an adult novel, and I can understand why this is. I felt like the story’s tone, as well as the way in which issues such as homosexuality, domestic violence, and possible incest were presented, left me feeling like the book hovered in a gray area between young adult and adult fiction.
To me, A Sudden Light clearly read as a coming-of-age story, in that it is a story told by an adult narrator about his 14-year-old self. However, the narrative voice didn’t quite work for me as a convincing 14-year-old point of view, or as an adult whose values and understanding I felt completely comfortable accepting.
I assume that the writer meant for the novel to be positive in tone towards some of the main characters, who were dealing with homophobia. However, some of the statements made by the narrator came across as possibly judgmental to this reader.
On top of this, I felt uncomfortable with the way an incident of domestic violence was never addressed, as well as how some incestuous attitudes were, to my mind, glossed over.
I also felt that the author (thinly disguised as the adult narrator, thinly disguised as a 14-year-old boy who claimed he was a genius) used A Sudden Light to lecture about issues such as conservation, good and evil, and Original Sin. I found the 14-year-old’s metaphors about the Garden of Eden, separation, and John Muir to be somewhat muddled and unconvincing.
Finally, I felt that A Sudden Light succumbed to the pitfall of substituting generic descriptions to create a “gothic” feel, rather than using specific details to create an authentic atmosphere. Stein’s writing reminded me of the generic descriptions in the lightly enjoyable stories of writers such as Simone St. James or Wendy Webb. On the other hand, writers who I admire for their ability to create authentic atmosphere include Sarah Waters, Michael Cox, and Jane Harris.
So in the end, A Sudden Light did a lot of things passably, but nothing brilliantly. I think it could have been a more powerful story if the author had clarified his focus.
I received an arc of A Sudden Light from the publishers through NetGalley.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Carole Besharah
    Sep 29, 2014 @ 15:57:27

    “A Sudden Light succumbed to the pitfall of substituting generic descriptions to create a “gothic” feel, rather than using specific details to create an authentic atmosphere.” Agreed! I feel as though Stein was more focused on creating a modern, gothic tale (insert a haunted house, ghosts, hints of incest) that he was on constructing a clear plot. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.I posted my review today, if you want to check it out: http://grandbarda.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/a-victorian-inspired-ghost-story-a-sudden-light-by-garth-stein/. Cheers!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Colouring for Wellbeing

Colouring for Fun, Mental Health & Relaxation

Steve Kaye Photo

Steve Kaye inspires respect for nature by showing his photos in talks, articles, and photo classes

Shapely Prose

2007-2010

tuckertranslations.wordpress.com/

Quality Translation and Language Services

Cleopatra Loves Books

One reader's view

Austenonly

Jane Austen's life, times and works explained and discussed

Olfactoria's Travels

A journey through the world of fragrance.

Jane Austen's World

This Jane Austen blog brings Jane Austen, her novels, and the Regency Period alive through food, dress, social customs, and other 19th C. historical details related to this topic.

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

For lovers of Australian and New Zealand literary fiction; Ambassador for Australian literature

Joanne Graham

Author, Mother, Random Dreamer

book'd out

Book Reviews and News

Petrona

Mainly about reading with an accent on intelligent crime fiction from around the world.

Reading In The Evening

Book reviews from a literature fiend

Julia Crouch

Novelist: the queen of domestic noir

Qwiklit

Learn Literature Now

Scandinavian Crime Fiction in English Translation

information about authors and books

crimepieces

Sarah Ward, crime author and reviewer

%d bloggers like this: