Children of Light Paperback – 4 Mar 1999
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As with her successful debut SELFISH PEOPLE, Bristol based Lucy English's second novel, set in Provence and Bath, features a bohemian heroine, and describes an ongoing rebellion within a family of each generation against the last. Mireille is the daughter of architect Hugo Devereux and Vivienne, his beautiful immaculate Grace Kelly lookalike wife -- a slave to convention where her daughter is bohemian, elegant where Mireille is messy. When Hugo embarks on a project in the South of France in the Sixties the family moves to Provence for a while and Mireille discovers La Ferrou at the end of a path through the woods, in a clearing -- a massive split brooding rock beneath which is a magical pool, a natural basin in the rock. Back in England, rebelling against Vivienne, Mireille becomes a hippy teenager and runs away, pregnant, with Gregor, her gypsy lover, to live in a hut by La Ferrou. But when, after five years, Gregor continues on to India to find his Guru and becomes a Child of Light, Mireille, penniless with their son Stephen to support, returns to England to introduce her wild little child to his conservative grandmother.However, Stephen finds an affinity with Vivienne that Mireille never had and rebels against his mother and her lovers, and her unconventional life on a houseboat in Bath.
About the Author
Lucy English was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in London, studied English and American literature at the University of East Anglia and has an MA in Creative Writing. She now has three children, works in a city farm in Bristol and is a performance poet. Children of Light is her second novel.
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'Children of Light' is a wonderful, poetic and absorbing read. True, it has a few problems plot-wise - I never felt it was made entirely clear why Mireille decided not to return to her Provencal home (and how it didn't completely fall down in her 20-year absence), and I didn't entirely believe in the attraction between Mireille and the much younger hippy Felix (who appeared more a druggy dropout than a charismatic poet) and what followed - this part of the plot was a bit clumsy. Mireille's relationship with her mother appeared to resolve itself rather too fast too - though I suppose the shock of her absence could have mellowed her mother a bit. But much of the book was a great story - English is a wonderful storyteller - and I loved the accounts of Mireille and Gregor on the hippy trail and of their life in Provence, and of Mireille's courageous self-healing when she returns to Provence after the incidents in Bath that have hurt her so much - and of what returning to Provence also does for her son Stephen. The ending was lovely and hopeful too!
Best of all is English's stunningly poetic language. English is a poet too and manages to incorporate some of the best of poetic writing in her novel. Her descriptions are never flowery or pretentious, or self-consciously poetic (as I find with some novels, such as Joanna Rossiter's 'The Sea Change', good though bits of that were), but they are also incredibly intense, vivid and painterly. You really feel the damp and the mists of the canal near Bath (and as a former Bristolian I know this area well), the heat of rural Provence in summer, the deliciousness of French food, the incredible variety in the landscape of Provence and the majesty of the mountains, the run-down elegance of the old French château, and smell the mixture of wine and tobacco and homecooking in the village cafe! I liked very much the way that English worked in the stories of the troubadours into her narrative (though I don't think liking folk music means you necessarily have to dislike opera) and how Mireille saw parallels between the troubadours and her own existence. And - bar some of the Felix scenes - I loved the way that Mireille was portrayed as a strong and independent woman.
A beautiful book which should be better known - I wish English would start writing novels again. I've read two by her now, and she - along with the late, lamented Helen Dunmore, also a poet - is one of the most sensitive and best descriptive writers I've come across. More please!
Four stars for plot - but definitely five stars for sheer sensual pleasure.
So I am going to order it now to read again, and also look forward to exploring the author's other work.