I read A Gathering Lightby Jennifer Donnelly shortly after I finished reading The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman. And so, I started reading it rather hesitantly. After reading a book that entirely captivates me and leaves me thinking about it for days after I've put down the last page, I'm always dubious to dive into another book as it rarely compares to the one that preceded it. But I needn't have had any fears about A Gathering Light.
I picked this book up in a charity shop, so other than what was written on the blurb, I had nothing to go on as I'd never even heard of the American author beforehand. But you can be certain that I will now be seeking out the rest of Donnelly's novels, as her writing style is incredibly captivating and if A Gathering Light is anything to go by, I imagine the rest of her work is just as good.
Set in 1906, the novel is based on the real-life murder of Grace Brown, a murder that shocked America at the time and is still just as shocking to read about nowadays. But the novel is told by Mattie Gokey, a young girl who has a dream of becoming a writer but an obligation to stay at home and care for her siblings.
By carefully blending together Grace’s factual story with Mattie’s fictional one, Donnelly’s novel blurs the boundaries between murder, mystery, romance and historical fiction genres – meaning that the types of readers that would love this book are as varied as the stories and topics it covers.
Mattie is a 16-year-old girl who is determined, strong-willed and has a huge affinity with books. She is everything that I wanted to be at that age and her likeability makes her the perfect narrator for the story. In fact, it is her well-roundedness that makes her so ideal for Donnelly to use as a sounding board for a number of discussions on topics including childbirth, marriage, racism, adultery, and poverty. And so, while Mattie might be just a child herself and while the book is a pleasantly easy read, this is anything but a cheery child’s story.
In short, A Gathering Light was far better than I was expecting it to be and I would wholeheartedly recommend Jennifer Donnelly's book to anyone who enjoys reading novels that carefully intertwine fiction with fact.
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