Review: Sixty Lights by Gail Jones

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin Award.]

Lucy Strange, the protagonist in Gail Jones's novel Sixty Lights, lives a tragic life: born in Australia in the 1860s, along with her brother Thomas she is orphaned at eight when her mother dies in childbirth and her father suicides in grief a fortnight later, transported to England to live with her uncle whom she has never previously met, condemned to a work-house at 14 when her uncle is nearly bankrupted, shipped to India at around 18 to live with a man to whom her uncle owes money, pregnant before she arrives, and back in England a year later severely ill. All in all, not such a good time was had. Yet she is able to see the light in the situation and near the end of the novel she discovers a talent for photography that is a direct result of all she has experienced.

The title of the book gives a clue to the basic symbols utilised: all sixty chapters, in some way or other, refer to light or the way it is used. We have references to photography, glass beads, early slide projection, sunlight - both bright and dull, stars and the night, bioluminescence, and one of the characters is named Isaac Newton, who investigated the way light interacts with glass prisms. For a while I thought the symbols would get in the way but Jones handles them pretty well; they define the edges of Lucy's life without overly impinging on the plot.

Jones handles the changing times and locales with ease and her characters are filled out and real. All in all, this is damn fine novel.

Final Matilda ranking for the 2005 Miles Franklin Award:

1. The White Earth by Andrew McGahan
2. Sixty Lights by Gail Jones
3. The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll
4. The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood
5. Salt Rain by Sarah Armstrong

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 23, 2005 5:09 PM.

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