Posted by: billpurdue | April 6, 2014

And now for something completely different

Every now and then it’s a nice change to pick up a novel that’s totally different from anything I might have read recently and the novel (or novella?) “Light Boxes” by Shane Jones qualifies for this description. This story is seriously weird and I can imagine that many readers just will not want to read it. I stuck with it, but to be honest, if it hadn’t been so short, I would have rejected it pretty quickly.


 It’s February, but it’s been February for far longer than 28 days – more like 128 days. The weather has been typically February-like for all this time and it appears that it’s all February’s fault – February being someone who lives just outside of town with the girl who smells of honey and smoke. Not only that, but children are disappearing in mysterious circumstances and all flight has been banned. The inhabitants of the town decide that a war against February is needed and one of the suggested ways of warming the air up is a giant light box to simulate the sun. It’s the professor who builds the light box, but there’s a group of men dressed in long black coats, tall top hats and wearing bird masks, collectively known as ‘the solution’, who also join the struggle (they are illustrated on the cover)


This has become a sort of cult novel, but the critics had a lot to say about it when it first appeared. Joanne Sheppard ( says in her blog: “Heavily conceptual and low on plot, Light Boxes is surprisingly engaging for what is essentially an extended metaphor in the form of a short novel”. Writing in the Guardian in 2010, Stephen Poole is less kind. He writes: “this is, in one sense, a fable of seasonal affective disorder; but eventually the awful truth dawns that it is an allegory about a depressed and unhealthy writer”. He goes on: “when it all becomes clear that February is essentially the sort of person whom I can imagine live-tweeting his mental anguish, the shrewd truths within this otherwise touching fairy tale are sadly diluted”.


I suppose the fact that I did read it to the end must mean something and I think it’s worth a look, so if you go for things that are out of the ordinary, don’t dismiss it.

 diary of an ordinary woman


Another out-of–the-ordinary sort of novel, but quite different from the above is “Diary of an Ordinary Woman” by Margaret Forster. In this novel the author employs a technique that can probably only be used once by an author. The introduction explains that the author was offered sight of the diaries of a woman born in 1901 and who kept a diary for almost the whole of her life. The author describes how she met the woman and how she was allowed to bring all the diaries home to get them ready for publishing.


The diarist is Millicent King, who, I suppose, did live an ordinary life. She lived through 2 world wars and possibly would have married a man if he hadn’t gone to fight in the Korean War when he was killed whilst in a prisoner of war camp. She comes from a large, but reasonably well off, family. She writes about the men in her life and about not wanting to get too involved, about the trials and tragedies of her siblings and her parents, the wide variety of jobs she had and how she came to be the ‘parent’ of twins, her nephew and niece, after her sister and brother-in-law were killed in the blitz. The format consists of ‘selected’ entries from Millicent’s diaries interspersed with commentaries from the author, which fill in gaps and speculate on some of the information in the diaries, which Millicent has for some reason or another left out.


However this is a work of fiction, however believable it might seem. Hidden away at the end of the book is a short paragraph explaining that the author was offered some diaries, but she never did get to meet the woman in question or see any of the diaries, which she hoped to look through. Instead she wrote a novel about what might have happened if the diaries really had come into her possession. In a way this book is similar to a family saga told from the point of view of one member of the family. Although there is no suspense in it, the book is very compelling and absorbing – another recommended read.


Local events


One of the events coming soon at Mansfield Library features the crime writer John Harvey, author of the Resnick novels which are set in Nottingham. He will be speaking about the final novel in the series and its local connections. It’s a “Crime Café” series meeting: the event at 2pm on May 6th is free, but pre booking is advised. Phone 01623 651337 for more details and to book a place


There are also several talks on Tuesday afternoons at Sutton-in-Ashfield Library with a local history flavour – phone 01623 556296 for more information.




  1. Mmm, I have Light Boxes and have been putting it off and putting it off and I don’t know why (given it is so short) but the mixed reviews have been putting me off!

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