As I’ve mentioned on this blog on a few different occasions, one of my all-time favourite books is Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. I’ve read it and re-read it and will most likely continue to do so for the rest of my life. It’s a book that means so much to me.
So, with that said, it should come as little surprise that, when I first learned that Stein would finally be releasing his latest novel (his first since Racing, which was published back in 2008) this fall, I was extremely excited to get my hands on it. I was so excited, in fact, that I wasn’t willing to wait until its release this past Tuesday. Instead, I reached out to Stein himself on Twitter…
Obstacles overcome and my worth proven, an advanced reader’s copy of A Sudden Light arrived at my home last week and I don’t really remember much else about my life between then an now. I dove into the book with gusto and only really came up for air when I finished it last night. And so, not wanting to waste any time in upholding my end of the bargain, here’s my review…
Before starting the book, there was a part of me that worried that I may be too attached to Enzo, the beloved canine narrator of Racing, that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate another work by Stein without him. I’ll be honest: I think of Enzo often. I think about his observations of the world and his sense of wonder to a point that I actually miss him. But I guess that’s one of the best things about books: when you miss a character you can always go back and re-read their story. In that sense, Enzo has never been very far away.
Thankfully I was quickly relieved to discover that I was perfectly capable of enjoying A Sudden Light. Or, perhaps it’s more apt to say that I had no choice in the matter. From the very start, the story pulled me in and took no time in completely engrossing me in its mysteries and enchanting narrative. Even when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about Trevor, the story’s 14-year old narrator. I was mulling over Riddell House and its secrets. I was hooked.
No, there is no Enzo in A Sudden Light; not even a hint of him. What we’re presented with instead is a rich tapestry of one family’s complicated history and an overlap of stories from a variety of perspectives across generations. The story begins with one big hole of a mystery, which quickly turns into a series of smaller, albeit equally pressing, mysteries. The reader is left scratching her brain, trying to piece together the big picture with the clues and evidence dutifully collected by Trevor who is as much as our partner in this as he is our narrator. The answers we’re looking for always feel so close and yet just out of reach until everything comes together almost peacefully in what I felt was a fairly satisfying, although in some ways surprising, conclusion.
A Sudden Light is also, much to my delight, a ghost story. I’ve been aching to read a good ghost story for quite some time. Not the kind set on a backdrop of grizzly murder and terrifying hauntings and leave you too afraid to sleep with the lights off. I wanted a more subtle fear and craved a ghost whose haunting came with a sense of purpose that was more than just old fashioned revenge. I wanted a ghost story with creepy bits that would frighten me just enough to keep me glancing over my shoulder yet still leave me feeling brave enough to keep hunting for more. This is the kind of ghost story I feel Stein has given us.
Without going into any details that might spoil the story, there were a few developments that I feel were left unresolved. Perhaps I missed something along the way and need to re-read the book with a closer eye on the details (which I probably would have done regardless. It’s the type of book you lament finishing because, as desperate as you were for a conclusion, you still did’t want it to be over). Still, what I realized as I read was that, as much as I still love Enzo, Stein’s real gift to us is his masterful storytelling. His narrative is often much like poetry but without being pompous; it is thought provoking and yet not so heavy that it slows the story down.
A Sudden Light is a captivating story that will lure you along with its words as well as its mysteries. While ghosts and deception aren’t new themes, some of the story’s plot points may surprise you and, if you mind isn’t already open, this book just might be able to help you out with that too.
Thank you, Garth, for rising to challenge of writing this wonderful story. I don’t doubt that The Art of Racing in the Rain left you with some high expectations to meet, but as a passionate fan of Enzo’s I can happily say that you succeeded. I’d also like to extend my thanks to the good people at Terra Communications for not forcing me to wait to experience this book. You’ve all given me a real gift.