Thursday 20 April 2023

Broken Light by Joanne Harris #BrokenLight @Joannechocolat @orionbooks #BookReview


Have you ever felt invisible?

Bernie Moon has given her life to other people: her husband, her son, her friends (who are these days, mostly online). At nineteen she was full of dreams and ambitions; now almost fifty, and going through the menopause, she's fading, fast. Heartbroken and hormonal, she often feels like she's losing her mind.

But when a young woman is murdered in a local park, it sparks a series of childhood memories in Bernie and with them, a talent that has lain dormant most of her adult life.

She promised herself she'd never think of it again. When she was a teenager, it almost destroyed her. But now she's older, could it be the power she's been missing?

Could it be the chance to, finally, make them look?

Broken Light by Joanne Harris is published on 11 May 2023 by Orion. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I have been a fan of Joanne Harris' writing for a long time. I have hardback copies of the Chocolat series and I've been lucky enough to meet her. 

Harris writes in a style that is truly hers, and hers only. Whether it's crime fiction or fantasy, there's such a precision to her structure. In Broken Light she returns with a hint of magical realism, but this is very far away from the tranquility and peace of rural France that we discovered in Chocolat. This is up to date, modern and so very relevant. It is brutal in parts, it is eye-opening, and it often anger-inducing. The anger comes from the reality of the words, the compelling and spellbinding depiction of a middle-aged woman living an ordinary life and whose rage gives her power. 

Bernie Moon is a woman who has become invisible. When she was younger she had dreams of who she would become, but those dreams faded into a life of marriage and motherhood. Bernie has no friends, but often thinks about Katie, the girl who she was close to as a child, who now torments her thoughts. Bernie's son is thirty, and she keeps up with his life via Instagram. Her husband has little time for her, with throwaway remarks that hurt.

When a young woman is murdered, in a park not far from Bernie's home, Bernie becomes almost revitalised. The news of the murder sparks memories from years ago, and a long hidden talent that Bernie has not thought about for years re-emerges. 

Bernie can go into other people's 'houses'. It's not really a bricks and mortar building, it's the 'house' that the person has created for themselves. Bernie can see how they really are, under the designer suits, and the expensive handbags. She can spot danger, and most of all, she can prevent it, and she can change people. It's not a gift that Bernie relishes, it cost her a lot in her younger life, but it seems to have come back with a force, she can do little to stop it. When Bernie saves a young woman from a man with ill intent one night, she gains a friend, she also gains a person who encourages her, who goads her to use her power, and not always in the right way. 

Joanne Harris deals with so many current issues within this fascinating story. The sudden invisibility of the middle-aged woman, the constant misogyny that is often seen as banter, and just a joke. The determination of some men to ensure that no woman feels equal to them, let alone better. It's a story filled with rage, and hot flashes and regaining your identity, against all odds. It's a story about friendships and yes, there are a couple of female characters in there who are not all good, all powerful and all right. The inclusion of a touch of misandry balances what could be an exhausting read. 

Broken Light is a book for discussion. The multiple questions raised would lead to some fine discussion for books groups, of all gender. The characters are vividly created and the emotion evoked is palpable. 

Beautifully written, and cleverly structured. I was engrossed from the first page right through to the explosive ending. 

JOANNE HARRIS is an Anglo-French author, whose books include fourteen novels, two cookbooks and many short stories. 

Her work is extremely diverse, covering aspects of magic realism, suspense, historical fiction, mythology and fantasy. 

In 2000, her 1999 novel CHOCOLAT was adapted to the screen, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. 

She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and in 2013 was awarded an MBE by the Queen.

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