Thursday, April 17, 2008

Review: Nightlight

By Janine Avril

Published by Alyson Books

Reviewed by Paul Kane

At root, Janine Avril’s affecting book is a memoir of her family and in particular of her father, a gifted but erratic man with whom she came to have an ambivalent relationship. It is also, though, an investigation into her past and a search for some kind of reconciliation. And it is, in part, a meditation on the white lies told to protect children and the cost they still must pay, when the truth wills out and a bill becomes due. Most of all, Nightlight is an account of a spiritual journey, the story of how Avril used the remnants of her troubled past to forge a meaningful life.

Throughout, Avril’s prose is fresh and vivid and able. With her, we see the family home and the world – the capacious, blue-canopied country of childhood - through the eyes of a small girl who wears clear jellies and likes to swim. We mourn her mother’s too-early death. We ride the wave of her troubled teenage years, and beyond. Avril tells a deeply personal story, to be sure, with a mystery at its heart. But her writing is so powerfully wrought as to make this a story that will touch other lives.

Nightlight centres on the sins (and blessings, too) of the father, and we have seen several memoirs like this from the States in recent years. One might mention Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and Fun Home as two other outstanding examples of the genre. What does this mean, if anything? Why are these books being written? Perhaps they are being written because it is generally our relationship with our father that is most damaged and problematic, most in need of repair.

A note about the production: the book could have done with more thorough copyediting, especially in its last quarter. Also, there is no chapter 37, but as compensation there are two chapter 31s! Anyway, this doesn’t effect the quality of the prose. Nightlight is an affecting and absorbing memoir, an excoriating investigation into the past.

Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. Hewelcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at



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