Book Of The Week, 16th August 2021

Francis Spufford: Light Perpetual. Published by Faber & Faber Limited, 2021.
HB, £16.99

It is the authors second novel, highly anticipated by fans and critics. Spufford began as a writer of historical, theological, autobiographical nonfiction. His first book, Golden Hill, a novel about an English chancer in 18th-century Manhattan, was a great success.

Light Perpetual is even bolder than Golden Hill, and different in every way. “It is a brilliant, attention-grabbing, capacious experiment with fiction.”

In November 1944, a German V2 rocket fell close to were Goldsmith University is today. The bomb killed 168 people, including several children. Spufford, who teaches at Goldmaith, thought about these lives cut short one day on his way to work. He decided to make his novel about five working-class children, allowing them to survive and grow up but not using their actual names and transposing their stories to the invented south London borough of Bexford.

He follows his five characters for a day each in 1949, 1964, 1979, 1994 and 2009. His elegant structure allows time to pass rapidly, imaginatively leaping 15 years at a stretch, leading us, engrossingly, through history.

“Light Perpetual is an exercise in gratitude, enhancing the sense that it is a fluke that we’re here at all. It is a meditation on death, too, with an entertaining warmth that does not cancel out its melancholy. It may be less uplifting than Golden Hill but its serious purpose dignifies it. Fiction depends on “what ifs” and in Light Perpetual, fiction is a form of mercy.” (The Guardian, 21.1.21)