You know how, sometimes, you find a book and you just know you’ll love it? For instance, Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I read the description and knew it would become an all-time favourite – and it did. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green was similar. These books promised something wonderful, and they delivered.
This was not one of those books.
I read the premise of The Light of the Fireflies and thought, ‘This is going to be amazing. I will love this book forever.’ It had already been compared to Room by Emma Donoghue, which I saw as a good thing, but by the end, I realised that it’s basically Room if Jack had escaped and, instead of trying to find the police, had helped Old Nick to murder Ma instead.
This book was undoubtedly well-written (though without any memorable quotes) and I enjoyed it right up until the bizarre ending, which I’ll do my best not to spoil. It’s about a family trapped in a basement, all of whom, apart from the youngest brother whose point-of-view the story is mainly told from, have disfigured faces from a fire that started before our protagonist was born. The sister’s features are apparently much more shocking than the rest of the family’s, since she wears a mask all day to cover them. At the beginning of the story, when they have been in the basement for eleven years, the sister gives birth – our first clue that something is very, very wrong with these people.
Like I said, I enjoyed the story a lot. There were twists and turns (although I guessed one major ‘twist’ quite early on) and the little boy’s character was very interesting. It was clear to me who the villain was, and who I was rooting for. My problem with this book? The ending turns the story completely on its head, and suddenly I felt encouraged to blame the victim.
It’s not that I need a happy ending – I don’t. I prefer more realistic stories where things don’t always go to plan. It’s not the sad parts that bother me. It’s that I felt I was expected to agree with that ending.
Maybe I’m wrong, and actually the author was trying to get into the heads of the kinds of people who would commit such crimes. Real-life criminals will excuse behaviour that the rest of us abhor, and maybe Paul Pen was exploring this kind of damaged mind. But here’s the rub: the villain isn’t telling the story, so why does the protagonist excuse these despicable actions? Is it supposed to be a form of Stockholm Syndrome?
I was just left feeling confused and, if I’m honest, betrayed. When you’re enjoying a narrative so much and then it flips over like that, all you can remember of it is the disappointment you were left with.
Despite my intense enjoyment of the main body of this book, I’m going to have to rate it 1/5. Again, I could be reading it wrong, but I feel it victim-shames and it glosses over rape and murder, and I can’t condone any of this.
(On another note, it totally ruined my enjoyment of another book! I was getting really into The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, but then Amazon sent me a recommendation for The Light of the Fireflies and I started reading that instead. Now I’ve read that, I can’t get back into The Tenant of Wildfell Hall! Grr!)
Thank you for stopping by and reading this! My internet is being installed on Thursday so hopefully I will be blogging a lot more soon – assuming everything goes to plan!