cover image Light Perpetual

Light Perpetual

Francis Spufford. Scribner, $23.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-982174-14-9

Spufford (Golden Hill) spins alternate narratives for five Londoners who died during the London Blitz in this magical yarn. The story opens in 1944 as the characters are killed in a rocket attack during Hitler’s “Vengeance Campaign” against Great Britain. After conjuring this tragedy, the narrator draws on Zeno’s paradox to theorize that for every historical event that’s occurred, there is an event that might have occurred. Thus, the reader comes to know sisters Jo and Val—the former, a brilliant and soulful rock star living in California; the latter, a woman trapped in a relationship with a violent, racist skinhead in England. As a London businessman, Vern sees peaks and valleys, as does Alec, a once-typesetter at the Times who in the ’70s finds his calling as a teacher. Ben is a schizophrenic whose heart-wrenching breakdown in 1979 London comprises the novel’s most stunning chapter. These narrative threads sometimes overlap, as when an adult Vern, bullied by Alec as a child, inadvertently knocks on Alec’s door while pursuing a property scheme. Watching the roles of bully and victim get reversed as the two of them catch up over tea is both tense and satisfying. Thanks to Spufford’s narrative wizardry, all five protagonists come to vivid life in this spectacularly moving story. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (May)