Book Review: A Sudden Light


ashley | The first thing that attracted me to A Sudden Light by Garth Stein was the cover. It’s a beautiful and magical cover and I knew I had to read it. The fact that the book was surprisingly quite good was just a happy bonus. Thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada and Net Galley for the advance copy.

A Suddent Light starts off with a prologue written with a tongue in cheek sarcastic tone as it sets the scene for a story that takes place a long, long time ago – 1990. I love the 90s. I love Seattle. I love sarcasm. I loved this book already.

The novel is told by a modern day Trevor, looking back on the year he was fourteen and his father took him back to the house he grew up in – The North Estate – to meet his aunt and grandfather for the first time. The house and his father’s upbringing have haunted his father all his life, but there seems to be more than just a haunting past lurking within those walls. 

By telling the story in these flashbacks, you’re able to relive Trevor’s fourteen year old experience with the innocence of a naive teenager and the luxury of hindsight, a combination that Stein uses perfectly. Learning about these supernatural situations through the innocence of a child is far more mysterious and believable than recounting the same stories from a jaded adult.

I love a good story full of family secrets and this book has plenty; Trevor’s sultry but suspicious aunt, her shady real-estate boyfriend, the mysterious passageways in the house, Trevor’s father’s mommy issues, his grandfather who I suspected had a far stronger grasp on reality than he let on. And that isn’t even touching on the ghosts. Yes, ghosts. I wasn’t expecting a ghost story, but The North Estate is full of lingering ghosts who are trying to guide Trevor into unraveling the truth and setting things right.

And oh the mind games in this one! I just didn’t trust anyone’s intentions at all throughout the entire book. It was like every move was a calculated move to secure some manipulation and further an agenda. And not just Trevor’s suspicious Aunt, but by the end, I was suspecting that every player was putting on a show and exaggerating their vulnerability or senility to their own advantage with poor Trevor stuck right in the middle trying to sort it all out. At times, I wasn’t quite sure that the motivations for these people were just, things seemed to escalate too quickly into a disturbing truth that I was hoping I was wrong about. (I wasn’t). These secrets, they aren’t for the light of heart.

This was also very much rooted in nature and the forest. Trevor comes from a long line of timber tycoons with conflicting mandates: some money driven, the others determined to preserve the forests. This is the culprit of the family conflict and Stein uses journal entries, dreams and ghostly letters to communicate the past, creating a surprisingly interesting and flamboyant tale for Trevor to unravel.

But A Sudden Light isn’t just about family and secrets and nature and ghosts. Ultimately, it’s a story about faith and a young boy’s fight to restore that faith in his father before it’s too late. It’s a surprisingly dark and twisted read, but it’s a journey of personal growth and faith that in the end, reinvigorates a sense of hope in an otherwise complicated and difficult world.

A Sudden Light is available September 30, 2014.