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Publisher's Summary

Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York Times, NPR, Slate, Lit Hub, Fresh Air, and more

A New York Times Notable Book

From the critically acclaimed and award‑winning author of Golden Hill, an “extraordinary … symphonic … casually stunning” (The Wall Street Journal) novel tracing the infinite possibilities of five lives in the bustling neighborhoods of 20th-century London.

Lunchtime on a Saturday, 1944: The Woolworths on Bexford High Street in South London receives a delivery of aluminum saucepans. A crowd gathers to see the first new metal in ages - after all, everything’s been melted down for the war effort. An instant later, the crowd is gone; incinerated. Among the shoppers were five young children.

Who were they? What futures did they lose? This brilliantly constructed novel, inspired by real events, lets an alternative reel of time run, imagining the lives of these five souls as they live through the extraordinary, unimaginable changes of the bustling immensity of 20th-century London. Their intimate everyday dramas, as sons and daughters, spouses, parents, grandparents; as the separated, the remarried, the bereaved. Through decades of social, sexual, and technological transformation, as bus conductors and landlords, as swindlers and teachers, patients and inmates. Days of personal triumphs and disasters; of second chances and redemption.

Ingenious and profound, full of warmth and beauty, Light Perpetual “offers a moving view of how people confront the gap between their expectations and their reality” (The New Yorker) and illuminates the shapes of experience, the extraordinariness of the ordinary, the mysteries of memory, and the preciousness of life.

©2021 Francis Spufford. Originally published in Great Britain in 2021 by Faber & Faber Limited. All rights reserved. (P)2021 W.F. Howes. All rights reserved.

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What listeners say about Light Perpetual

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Outstanding... breathtaking

This is such exemplary, transporting work, as a story and series of stories, and in performance. Of the hundreds of books I’ve read & heard in the past several years, this clearly stands out.

The vast array of voices and moods performed by Imogen Church is unsurpassable - I’ve never heard a better narration.

10 people found this helpful

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deep and beautiful

At the beginning, I had trouble concentrating on the lives described, in their stunning intricacy, as I continued remembering...they died; these lives never happened. Finally, I was able to give in to the ineluctible weave of this master storyteller's tale.
This is a remarkable achievement and a memorable reading experience. Thank you, Frances Spofford.
Brilliant.

7 people found this helpful

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Transcendently written and brilliantly performed.

This is one of those novels that manages to contain the world. Come for the sumptuous sentences; stay for the beautiful exploration of redemption.

5 people found this helpful

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Superlatives only

I can’t say enough good things about this miraculous book. It is a masterpiece. The narrator of this recording is probably the best I’ve ever heard, too. Thank you for a transcendent experience.

4 people found this helpful

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"Keep reading, the ending makes the novel work"

Summary: In 1944, a German rocket hit a Woolworths in South London, killing many. This novel explores what might have been if five of those children had not been killed. 

When encountering fiction, my primary method is to find authors I trust and to read their books without any investigation into the story. A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through a sale at Audible and saw that there was a new novel by Francis Spufford, an author I trust, and I purchased it without reading anything about it.

I started listening, and I was utterly lost and went back and read a little bit about the book to figure out what was going on The opening is a slow-motion description of a V2 rocket blast that killed a large number of people in a crowded Woolworth's department store. Spufford is writing an alternative history where that rocket never launched, or it failed somehow, and the Woolworths was not destroyed. This book follows the lives of five children from about nine years old until about 70. As readers, we check into their story with short vignettes that create an image of what their life is like, but we do not spend enough time with them to get a deep understanding of them.

I have read alternative history fiction before, which doesn't follow the typical model of alternative history, so I think Light Perpetual fails in that area. Generally, alternative history has one of two main models. Either unknown people from one time period go to another time through time travel, and either is shocked at the changes in technology and culture or use their knowledge of the future to make the lives of the past better. This story type is usually considered science fiction, and Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch or Eric Flint's 1632 series are good examples.

The other model of alternative history is to take some famous event or person and imagine a different reality. In this case, the story plays with the reader's knowledge of the natural history and the author's imagination of the alternative history. Stephen Carter's novel The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln imagines that Lincoln survives his assassination attempt in 1865 and two years later faces impeachment. Light Perpetual does not fit either of these two models. We as readers can know something about the history and cultural changes from 1944 until the early 2000s, but that is not alternative history because nothing has changed; it is just a fictional story set in our regular history. The framing of this novel as a type of alternative history, I don't think, really makes a lot of sense. The framing as alternative history distracts from the telling of a good story.

The second thing any potential readers of Francis Spufford need to know is that both of his novels have endings that change the reader's understanding of the whole novel until that point. I don't want to spoil either this or his novel about early NYC, Golden Hill, but I thought Golden Hill was a mediocre novel until the last handful of pages, and then I thought it was brilliant. So when I was about to give up on this novel, roughly 1/3 of the way through, I pressed on because I hoped for a similar resolution. And I was not disappointed, although what I got was not what I expected. Part of the problem of the early parts of Light Perpetual did not give me enough of the characters to be invested in their stories until I was about 2/3 of the way through the novel. I needed to feel like there would be resolution or redemption or people worth caring about. The novel got there, but it took a while.

A third thing that readers of Light Perpetual probably want to know is that Francis Spufford has written one of the few books of apologetics that I think is worth reading. I am not a fan of Christian apologetics as it is commonly conceived. Yes, Christians sometimes need help working through issues of faith and reason. But I do not think that most non-Christians are persuaded about the rationality or usefulness of Christianity by philosophical or other types of arguments. Christianity is about a relationship with Christ, not about argumentation and methodology. Francis Spufford's Unapologetic isn't trying to argue anyone into belief; he simply tells others that despite occasional issues of doubt and disbelief, he finds Christianity emotionally satisfying and that it "makes sense" of his experience. Once I was finished with Light Perpetual, I think Spufford was channeling that non-fiction defense of Christianity into a fictional story that could explore life's meaning.

Light Perpetual is not a book of Christian fiction that could be published in the US. First, there is too much sex, drugs, language, and ambiguity. There is a lot of good Christian fiction that has been published in the US, but commonly Christian fiction deserves a lot of its scorn for being trite and overly neat. (If you haven't read Reading Evangelicals: How Christian Fiction Shaped a Culture and a Faith by Daniel Stillman, I recommend it.) My favorite Christian fiction is works by British authors like Susan Howatch or Spufford, or books that deal with faith but are published by secular publishers like Marilynne Robinson or Madeline L'Engle. Some Christian publishers have published excellent fiction like the Back to Murder series, but they are rare and often do not sell well.

Spufford is telling a moral story, although not one that is wrapped up with a bow, and where everyone gets there just rewards. Yes, some gain wisdom with age and glimpse the meaning of life. But there is also hardship at the end of life. Parents cannot solve every problem of their children or grandchildren. Sometimes kindness is repaid with cruelty. Some people gain years, but not wisdom.

I listened to Light Perpetual as an audiobook. This is a book that I look forward to picking up a print copy and slowly working my way through again to see what I may have missed on my first reading. I suspect there is more there than what I got the first time and that a second reading with be worth the effort.

3 people found this helpful

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slow, but thoughtful and well read

Imogen Church is terrific and manages an interesting but dry-ish text very well. Recommended for anyone interested. (I chose this as I'm working through the Booker longllist, mostly on audio.)

2 people found this helpful

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Wonderful reader

The reader is wonderful. She breathed a spirit into the book that I think would have been missing from the printed word. On the other hand, it might have been easier to keep track on the characters and the jumps in time in a print edition.

2 people found this helpful

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Prose poetry

The language was beautiful and evocative. Poetic and powerful. The characters and their lives were well drawn. The main premise and promise of the novel, however, imagining the lives that might have been of children killed in a London bombing, felt unfulfilled to me. There was no tie to the beginning at the end of the book. The story was left dangling.

1 person found this helpful

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Tried twice but just wasn't interesting

I thought maybe I wasn't in the mood for this book so I let it sit for a while and started again but it still didn't grab my attention.

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Really tried, but…

I really tried to get into this but gave up. I found the writing to be so wordy and rambling, I totally lost what was being conveyed. Narrator did a very good job but I found the book to be irritating and obtuse.