Shortly after I read Joan Thomas' new book, I saw the DVD of "Atonement", a movie based on the novel by the Booker Prize winner and English writer,Ian McEwan. I could not help but compare the two. Both are set mainly in the time leading up to and including the chaos of World War II, although "Reading by Lightning" has the added benefit, for me, of starting out on a farm on the Canadian Prairies. I especially loved the early scenes where Lily Piper struggles within the confines of her fundamentalist family and community.
I had read the book "Atonement" much earlier and liked it, and also liked the movie very much, but I remember saying to myself, "Joan's book is better! It could be made into an Oscar winner!"
That got me thinking about why I enjoyed it so much. I could easily list the similarities between McEwan's and Thomas' writing:
a) captivating protagonist
b) meticulous historical research that supports but does not overwhelm the story
c) sympathetic and just-flawed-enough characters
d) brilliant and humorous insights into what it means to be in love and human
e) compulsive readability
f) precise, clear-minded, understated,elegant prose.
I have recommended "Reading by Lightning" many times, to friends and book clubs and they have all enjoyed it. And my immediate admiration has since been validated. The book has been nominated for several 2009 Manitoba book awards, won Thomas a trip to New Zealand to accept the award for best first novel in the Commonwealth, won a place on the year-long "On the Same Page" promotion (which seeks to get as many Manitobans reading a worthwhile local author - sort of like CBC's "Canada Reads") and recently won a prize by Amazon for best first Canadian novel.
""Reading by Lightning" - Now a Major Motion Picture!!!" I like the sound of that. Thank you, Joan Thomas, for a great book.
Oh yes, by the way, although Joan Thomas used to be an English teacher, her text does not follow standard rules of punctuation for dialogue. But it does not detract from the power of the writing.