Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford - review by Anthony Cummins

Anthony Cummins

After the Bombs

Light Perpetual


Faber & Faber 336pp £16.99

The death of a fictional character can mark the point at which a writer’s imagination has run dry – a corner cut in the search for pathos – but in Francis Spufford’s new novel, the opposite is the case. Light Perpetual begins in the fraction of a second before a German V-2 rocket, seen as in slow motion, flattens a south London branch of Woolworths one Saturday lunchtime in 1944. Five primary-school-aged children in the shop are about to die; what, the novel asks, if the bomb never hit and they lived?

After the bravura opening, described in a voice somewhere between David Attenborough and Adam Curtis, Spufford switches to his main business: delivering an immensely satisfying ensemble narrative that captures these five children in the youth, adulthood and old age they never had at roughly twenty-year intervals, from 1949 to 2009.

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