Sixty Lights

sundari

I've been getting a lot of emails lately from people seeking book reviews and recommendations. So I thought it might be nice to start regular book reviews on my blog, starting with one of my favourite novels, Sixty Lights by Gail Jones.

Sixty Lights is an Australian novel that follows the life of the fictional Lucy Strange, who grows up in the nineteenth century travelling from Australia, to England and Bombay. Lucy is an extraordinary woman; a type of visionary, whose 'vision' stems from her photographic senses.

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There has never been a time without the photograph, without the residue and writing of light.

-Eduardo Cadava

These are the words that begin this novel. Sixty Lights is as much about the art of photography as it is about Lucy. The mechanical and artistic processes of early photography in the nineteenth century weave into the description of Lucy's life in the most seductive manner. The uniqueness of Lucy's vision is that it can not only make you 'see' prose like photography, but also, feel it. I could imagine the heat of light as it was reflected in the heat of Lucy's body as she discovers sexuality. I could smell the chemicals that brought about a photograph in the liquid that covered another one of Lucy's 'creations': her daughter. This is not explicitly rendered in the book, but emotionally, poetically and metaphorically implied.

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There was no one else in the world like Miss Lucy Strange; she was a woman of singular and remarkable intensity. She was also a woman with an exquisite collar bone, deep sensuous eyes and an allure he could barely bring himself to name (p.216).

You will fall in love with Lucy, like I did. As a character, she could be prone to cliche. But there's something about her in this novel that doesn't allow her to be turned into a stereotype. She is as she is, and the reader, like those who love her, must accept her. By the end of the novel, I pictured her as something molten, burning from the inside. I think I would have hated her in a different novel, but in these pages, she is exquisite.

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She said there is a glow to love: she had actually seen it. It is like the entire sun coming to rest in the belly of a kneeling sheep. It is like a glint from the beads of an Italian necklace that hung at her mother's throat. It is like two lovers flashing mirrors through space and time (p.104).

You will also fall in love with Gail's images. Reading this novel is like a series of electric shocks in which you stumble upon words that seem to jolt you into recognition. It's actually, quite tellingly, like flicking through a photo album and recognising an old face which is suddenly new through different and older eyes.

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Image credits: all images are by Sundari Carmody, whose blog is one of my favourites and whose flickr account I visit often. She is also having a one-month only sale of her photographs in her shop. There is something special about Sundari's photography, and the works which she creates are the closest that I've come to finding images that represent the same tone and texture of the words in Sixty Lights.