There is something deeply poetic about Lisa Harding’s latest novel, Bright Burning Things, despite the hard-hitting nature of the content and the protagonist unravelling in front of the reader’s, and her son’s, very eyes.
Harding’s first novel, Harvesting, won a number of literary awards and her talent for writing is on obvious display again here; writing in a poetic prose reminiscent of Janice Galloway’s The Trick Is To Keep Breathing.
Inspired by personal experience of an alcoholic family member and the rehabilitation centre he entered run by nuns, Harding takes what should be a dislikable character – out-of-control, barely able to care from her four-year-old son or the stray dog she has adopted, angry and at times vicious – and turns her into a woman the reader is rooting for to get on and to get it right.
In the opening chapters a picture builds of a loving mother but one who doesn’t have the skills to care for her young son, Tommy. This is mainly down to the “bad fairy” who climbs out of the plentiful supply of wine Sonya is pouring down her throat to cope with the change motherhood has brought to her formally fast-paced and supposedly glamourous life as an actress.
But, after a phone call from a nosy neighbour, Sonya soon finds herself in a rehabilitation centre facing three months without her son and without the alcohol she has been using as a crutch. What follows is a story of survival and of learning from her mistakes.
Bright Burning Things is much in the same vein of stories as the recent hugely successful Shuggie Bain from Douglas Stuart and is every bit as endearing and every bit as likely to be read in one sitting. The book does speed to a conclusion and the reasons for certain relationships being as they are are not always fully explained but this does little to detract from the fact that Harding is an incredibly talented and exciting writer.