Book Review: Invisible in a Bright Light
Invisible in a Bright Light
Written by Sally Gardner
Published by Head of Zeus
Publication date: 14th October 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
From I, Coriander to Invisible in a Bright Light, Sally Gardner’s first middle grade novel in 14 years soars with the imagination of a master story-teller. A pitch-perfect story about a crystal chandelier that splinters into a thousand pieces, a girl abandoned as a baby on the steps of an opera house and a dangerous game called the Reckoning.
It is 1870: opening night at the Royal Opera House in a freezing city by the sea, where a huge, crystal chandelier in the shape of a galleon sparkles magically with the light of 750 candles.
Celeste, a theatre rat, wakes up in a costume basket from what she hopes is a bad dream, to find that everyone at the theatre where she works thinks she is someone else.
When the chandelier falls, she is haunted by a strange girl who claims to know Celeste’s past and why she must risk playing a game called the Reckoning to try to save the people she loves.
Rich in time are the sick and injured, near drowning in long days of boredom, swimming in and out of sleep. Celeste tried to use these unchained hours to make sense of where she was: in an iron bed with linen sheets and ironed pillowcases.
For the first few days after the accident she felt that she was drifting on clouds, hanging on a thread between sky and sea. Her whole body was bandaged, white upon white. There was snow and only a short breath of day that was all too soon swallowed in the darkness of curtains drawn tight against the cold. Candlelight danced across wallpaper making strange shapes that wandered into her dreams.
Celeste couldn’t remember the order of things that had brought her to this soft bed. Time passed, people came, she heard what they had to say. Among them was Madame Sabina Petrova, talking to the doctor.
“Will she live?”
First impressions: I knew that I had to read this as soon as I saw the summary, even though, at the time, I was on blog hiatus as was trying not to commit to any more blog tours. Yet, I just could no turn this one down because I was so excited to see another book by Sally Gardner, especially one which mentioned so many things I loved – the theatre setting, themes of family and loss and a magical game with high stakes.
When I started reading I was instantly transported into Celeste’s world and came to love her as well as all of the other characters dearly. Each character is realised so fully even in just a few lines, from the King creeping up into his box in the theatre, to Anna, the governess to Hildegarde, an unloved daughter to an ungrateful mother and everyone in between. I found myself heavily invested in everyone’s fate, cheering on Celeste as she attempts to figure out the riddles of man in emerald green, makes mistakes and breakthroughs and, ultimately, has to make choices that could determine her own future as well as those around her.
The setting is also richly illustrated, with a myriad of little touches which made it perfection. I liked how the city is referred to only as C-, which reminded me of old travelogues. The gleaming crystal chandelier representing the souls lost on a ship where every passenger mysteriously disappeared, leaving their meals uneaten and belonging undisturbed, was both a beautiful yet slightly disturbing image.
This book kept me guessing right up until the end and I could really feel Celeste’s frustration as she tried to figure out how to win ‘the Reckoning’ when it seems as if the odds are stacked against her. I loved how the folklore and stories of the world in which the story is set are woven organically through the narrative with various characters referring to stories that they have heard of the Albatross or the Gutter of Time, where everything is suspended between one moment and the next.
“I saw the man in the emerald suit again,” said Celeste. “After the chandelier fell.”
“He’s very contrary,” said Maria, “and not to be trusted. He told me first he wanted me to dance. But he didn’t.“
“To guess his name. I believed that was a trick, so I concentrated instead on my ballet.“
“You are the answer to all that’s been missing.” said Celeste. She lay back on the pillows. “Do you remember that fairy tale? It was to do with midnight.”
“Yes. I thought it was just a story to frighten children,” said Maria, moving onto the bed.
“I used to think that too,” said Celeste. ” I remember one part – if you were to wake on the dot of twelve minutes to midnight then…then you…”
“Then you would vanish into the gutter of time,” said Maria. “A kingdom ruled by…” She paused, trying to recall the story.
“A man in an emerald green suit?” suggested Celeste.
What I liked: The magic of the story, the relationships between the characters, how the mystery keeps twisting and turning, tightening around the reader in such a way that it is impossible to stop reading. This is a wonderfully-atmospheric and magical story which will transport you into its world and is the perfect read to curl up with on a cold winter’s night.
Even better if: I feel like I will get even more out of this on a second read-though as there were definite hints and red herrings which led me astray during my first read-through.
How you could use it in your classroom: This would make a fantastic addition to any library catering for readers aged 9+ and is guaranteed to be popular with any fans of magical realism, especially those who have enjoyed books by Amy Wilson such a A Far Away Magic, A Girl Called Owl or Snowglobe. This would also be a great follow-up read for anybody who has enjoyed Nevermoor, The House with Chicken Legs or anything by Abe Elphinstone. I will be adding a number of copies to our school library and recommending it as a book that teachers could use in the classroom to pick out elements of descriptive language, character-building and scene-setting, all of which are done masterfully in this book.
About the Author
Sally Gardner gained a first class degree at a leading London art college and became a successful theatre costume designer before illustrating and writing books. Her debut novel, I, Coriander won the Nestle Gold Award and she is also a Costa and Carnegie prize-winner. Her books have been translated all over the world and have sold over two million copies.
(Thank you to Zephyr Books (Head of Zeus) for my review copy and inviting me to be part of the blog tour)
What did other people think?
Don’t miss the other stops on this blog tour:
While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of Treason of Thorns, Shadow Weaver, The Burning, All the Things We Never Said, The Switching Hour, The Storm Keeper’s Island, No Ballet Shoes in Syria, Stardust, Summer Bird Blue or House Without Walls?
Thanks for reading!