Publication Date: 4th March 2021
Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding was a book I included in my most anticipated reads of 2021 blog post. I stumbled across it when I was perusing Bloomsbury’s catalogue and was drawn to the struggling alcoholic mother element presented in the blurb.
Set in Dublin, Bright Burning Things tells the first person story of single mum Sonya, a young woman living on benefits with her 4 year old son Tommy and their rescue dog Herbie. Sonya has a troubled past, dogged by signs of anxiety and mental illness after the death of her mother when she was 8 years old. Sonya’s isolation is further impacted by her fractured and distantly tense relationship with her father who struggled with grief after the death of his wife.
Sonya has a very close relationship with little Tommy, which at times proves destructively close. They have their own language, their own in-jokes, their own haphazard way of living life. Unfortunately Sonya is also living with an alcohol addiction and Tommy has to witness her becoming ‘blurry’ and has to deal with the ‘bad fairy’ who comes out of her when she’s been drinking.
Sonya clearly isn’t coping at all with life in general and looking after her son who should by now be attending school. She quite often forgets to feed him and has a propensity to blackout when she’s drunk, which in turn leads to precarious and downright dangerous events around the house.
When Mrs O’Malley across the street threatens to call social services, Sonya’s father steps back into her life and takes the decision to corral Sonya into a rehab facility for a 12 week stay.
Sonya has to suffer the absolute wrench of having Tommy taken from her and placed in the care of strangers and when she emerges from rehab having dried out she has to face the even more daunting fact of putting her family back together and getting her young vulnerable child to trust her again.
This book obviously tackles very difficult subjects, ones which you cannot look away from no matter how uncomfortable they make you feel. To follow the story through the eyes of the person suffering from the alcohol addiction is very compelling. To know that there are times when you can’t completely trust what this person is telling you, and you can see the effect her behaviour is having on this young boy is heartbreaking at times.
I was always willing Sonya on in her recovery and I was pleased in a way that the path back to some semblance of ‘normality‘ was not an easy one. Sonya doesn’t emerge from rehab miraculously ‘cured’ and all shiny and brand new. She still fights her demons daily, hourly. She still has to control the ‘flapping creatures’ that rise up in her chest, the outbursts of anger, the lapses of lucidity. She has to battle all of this whilst trying her utmost to appear stable and ‘normal’ in the eyes of the authorities and the judgemental eyes of her father.
The relationship between Sonya and Tommy is so touching. They are so very close at the start of the book, living in their own little bubble. Making their own way through the days trying to have fun and in no need of help from anyone (in Sonya’s eyes). When they are torn apart it is absolutely heartbreaking even though rationally you know it’s for the best.
Lisa Harding’s writing is beautiful, and given free reign to sound even more lyrical when a small child’s sing-song, innocent voice is added to the mix. I enjoyed the way the writing reflected the times when Sonya was struggling, short clipped sentences not quite fully formed giving the narrative an almost distracted flighty feel.
I absolutely raced through this book and am now tempted to get hold of a copy of Lisa Harding’s first novel Harvesting.
Thank you to the publishers for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx