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24Jan

Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford review – a brilliant, capacious experiment with fiction

Five young victims of a wartime bomb are resurrected in the Golden Hill novelist’s audacious meditation on life and death

This novel has been greedily anticipated by Francis Spufford’s many fans – I’ve had a copy of it sitting temptingly on my desk like the promise of a treat to come. Yet there is one thing we know about Spufford: you cannot second-guess him. He began as an elegant writer of nonfiction – historical, theological, autobiographical – before producing, aged 52, Golden Hill, a novel of exuberant virtuosity about an English chancer in 18th-century Manhattan. A gorgeous escapade of a read, it was hard to believe it was a first novel. In an interview at the time, Spufford said he had just been waiting to be “on reasonable terms” with his own psyche before turning his hand to fiction. But Golden Hill set the bar so high that I had wondered if he might offer us something unriskily modest with which to sneak past the famously challenging second novel post.

His elegant structure allows time to pass rapidly, imaginatively leaping 15 years at a stretch

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