A Sudden Light

A Sudden Light: A Novel - Garth Stein

(I got an ARC courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

A book that started well in my opinion, yet lost momentum along the way.

I liked its stifling setting, how the characters were isolated in that huge, derelict house, the feeling of entrapment (mostly through Serena, who had stayed there for her whole life and never travelled or did the things she wanted to do). Riddell House was permeated with a strong atmosphere of oppressive memories, between ghosts that may or may not exist and memories weighing heavily on everyone. Secret rooms and passages, hints at family secrets, letters and trinkets appearing in unexpected places... Basically, the setting was really what fascinated me here.

The writing style was beautiful, too, befitting the poetic aspects of the nature outside the house (I'm positive the Thoreau-like vibes I got from it were totally on purpose).

On the other hand, what worked in descriptions didn't work in dialogue, and unfortunately, this left a stain on my enjoyment of the novel. The characters in general had a tendency to talk "like in a book"—meaning I constantly felt that they had rehearsed their speech beforehand. Of course, the narrator not being the 14-year-old Trevor, but an older Trevor, might account for that; however, the effect it caused still remained a problem for me. Perhaps filtering the story through the older Trevor's voice wasn't the best choice here; perhaps I would have liked it more if it had been unadultered. It's hard to tell. Serena especially had a weird way of talking, going into soliloquies at times, as if performing for an audience, and her speech patterns definitely sounded unnatural.

In general, I found the mystery lacking in depth. The ghost aspect of the novel was nothing exceptional (if you're looking for something spooky, you won't find it here), although I must say I liked Harry's and Benjamin's story, and the way it ended. The family secrets were somewhat to be expected, as well as the characters' motivations. I also thought the novel crammed a lot of elements together (ghosts, lost loves, illness, madness...), yet went on tangents that made it drag, resulting in a paradoxical narrative that was both too short and too long.

Not uninteresting, but I expected much more out of it, and didn't get it in the end.