Sixty Lights

Monday, 17 January 2011


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Tana said...

It seems to me that this novel has something elusive in the plot, something that is not generalized so that you have to make your own way to understand the character of Lucy . And it's also interesting to see how the author images 'lucy-her perspective through lens - her life and art'. Really want to read it

andrea said...

that book sounds really nice. I'd never heard of it before!

skeletaldreams said...

this is a beautiful post, your review is really lovely and poetic

Deleilan said...

I love early photography, and am just now starting to "practice" again, which makes your recommendation that much more enticing. I'll have to see if Sixty Lights is available here.

There is indeed something special, I'd even say magical, about Sundari's photos... Thank you for pointing us to her blog!

seaing said...

Sixty Lights sounds like such an interesting novel! I don't think they have it where I am, though. Sadly.

Have a great week!

lizzie said...

sounds like an interesting book...looks very mysterious.

heleen said...

I couldn't possibly be more excited about this new feature on your blog! I adore your taste, you always introduce me to new things that are out of the ordinary and not at all cliche. Reading your blog is like a treasure hunt, sometimes. Anyway, I added this book to my must-read list, I have a few trainrides coming up that would love to be filled with enthralling literature.

Design Elements said...

beautiful post! hug

CloudyKim said...

Sounds like a very interesting book. I'm glad you included quotes because that gave me such a strong feel for the book. I happen to be a huge sucker for pretty imagery, so the ones you chose to include in this post made my heart beat faster. I especially love the bit about the lovers flashing mirrors to each other.

that kate said...

It sounds wonderful and I will definitely be seeking it out!

SJ said...

brilliant, i just posted today about needing a new book, it's like you read my mind! :)

Megan Champion said...

sounds like a good read - I glad you doing reviews too.

mandyface said...

i love love love the nancy drewness.

etre-soi said...

this book sounds amazing, just checked in the french amazon and it's still not available in french, but I found anouther one of her books and I'm taking note. Love that you are going to make more book reviews :)

Lilla Kullan ♥ Hemma på Landet said...

I love your photos in this blog.:-) Stina

Esti said...

you have picked pictures that truly resonate with me: it's like I have dreamed these same pictures. I'm off to check the photographer!

tywo said...

It sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Have a lovely week.


Vanessa said...

Beautiful post, beautiful photos. I find it amazing how you find the perfect images to accompany your words. I think I'm already in love with this book thanks to you and just know that I'll be captivated by it, especially as it's about photography. Great idea recommending books here and I look forward to more in the future.

gracia said...

"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)."

I love the imagery of her words, and your review coupled with Sundari's photos make me want to read, read, read both this book and others by Gail Jones.

More reviews please, Hila. When you are ready, more reviews. They're ever inspiring.

g xo

P R I M O E Z A said...

i was going to ask about the images - they are perfect!

julie said...

this book sounds like a great read and the way you have used to images to illustrate your review is wonderful.

Tracey said...

This sounds like an incredible story ... while I'll also quickly building a long list of 'must-watch' movies, I'll be starting off my 'must-read' list for the year with this title.

Those images are amazing, and beautifully accompany your words.

Katie said...

It sounds beautiful, I must check out the book soon :)

Thank you.

Des said...

Your reviews are always excellent.

Christine said...

Now added to my list! Sounds great. And perfect photos to go with it.

mir said...

Wonderful !!!!! Thanks !!!!! Bizzzz !

Sarah said...

you blended the photos and the little bits of the book so well! i need to get my hands on that book already! x

Ella said...

i really must check this out! your review looks promising!

See Hear Say said...

ohhh like your post, regular book review is a great idea! and i love how you're combining it with pretty photographs. i have been following sundari's blog for a while now, they're beautiful and eerie, she has one distinctive style!

bronwyn said...

Like others have said, these images complement your words so well. They are just gorgeous and the book sounds intriguing.

hila said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments everyone, glad to hear you like the idea of book reviews.

Tana: yes, there’s something elusive about this novel, and I think people respond differently to the character of Lucy.

Andrea: I’m glad I introduced you to it then.

Skeletaldreams: thank you!

Deleilan: my pleasure, I love her work.

Seaing: you can probably get it online.

Lizzie: it is most interesting.

Heleen: Thank you! This would be perfect for a train ride.

Design Elements: thanks!

Cloudykim: that is a particularly moving passage and image.

That Kate: that’s great!

Sj: ha, I aim to please :)

Megan Champions: thanks, I hope people enjoy them.

Mandyface: Nancy Drew?

Sofia: oh that’s a shame, but honestly, all of her books are great.

Stina: thanks!

Esti: yes, aren’t they just beautiful?

Tywo: you too!

Vanessa: thanks so much, I hope I can live up to such high standards!

Gracia: oh thank you sweet one, you are a gem :)

Primoeza: I know, they’re so beautiful.

Julie: thanks so much!

Tracey: thanks Tracey, I’m glad it has your seal of approval :)

Katie: my pleasure.

Des: thanks Des! Nice to hear from you.

Christine: yes, the photos fit nicely.

Mir: thanks!

Sarah: I hope you find a copy!

Ella: I think you’ll like it.

See Hear Say: yes, I agree, her style is so distinctive, and I love it.

Bronwyn: it was luck finding images that fit the tone and content of this book.

Mariella said...

Hi Hila found your blog recently through your guest post on Miss Moss. It's great to being able to add another beautiful, cleverly written blog to my reader, it makes the whole blogging experience worthwhile. Thanks for sharing this novel, I will add it to my "to read"list

hila said...

oh thank you, that's so sweet of you to say. Thanks for stopping by.

thea said...

ooh, this sounds really good,I'm going to try get my hands on it...



hila said...

I hope you find a copy, it's a wonderful book.

Katarina said...

Thanks for the recommendation Hila, just got myself the book and I'm loving it!

Sundari said...

I came back to this post cause one of the lecturers in the photography department lent me this book. Must be the book that is wanting me to read it?