A Gathering Light

There’s nothing like a murder on the first page of a novel to grab your attention, and Jennifer Donnelly’s A Gathering Light, is definitely a challenging and absorbing read. The story of two young lives brought together by tragic circumstances, it is a truly moving portrayal of life on the east coast of America in the early 1900s. Mattie Gokey, the novel’s main protagonist, has won a scholarship to go to college in New York. Tied to the family farm and to the promise that she made to her dying mother to look after her brothers and sisters, she has, however, little chance of taking it up. Should she pack her bags and go as her teacher suggests or should she stay at home in Eagle Bay, marry and have children? Is it better to be fulfilled and alone or frustrated and loved? Skillfully constructed, and with a strong sense of place, Donnelly’s A Gathering Light is a mature literary work, which has much in common with the works of Willa Cather. It would make an excellent addition to any secondary-school library, and would be of particular interest to any young person interested in becoming a writer. Mattie has a refreshingly frank perspective on life and her comment that ‘hell was not the “ever-burning sulphye” or “the darkness visible” in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, but the knowledge that you were only on page 325 of book one when there were 11 more books to go’ will surely strike a chord in the heart of many readers, young and old.