Francis Spufford ‘Light Perpetual’

“Booker Prize 2021: 6 Books Sure to be shortlisted for this prize.
“Light Perpetual”: In order of reading book number 1.


Those, and also the lucky ones, the energetic ones, the organised ones among the strivers, will go off into the long youthfulness of the prosperous, drinking wine and buying lampshades and able to treat turning thirty as a point in late adolescence. For the rest, though, this is it. This first flowering will be the only one. They’ll have their bloom, and that’s all. By the time they’re thirty, time will have stomped all over them.


Now this book about the East of London is just so full of life, I sort of remember all of these times (a little ouside of the east end of course) except the opening chapter, more from my mother’s memories. The book treats the -what if?- As the V2 bombers rained down on London, Spufford goes back to one of their impacts, of the New Cross Road branch of Woolworth’s building, in the first chapter, four pages that cover several mili-seconds from the moment the bomb pierces the ceiling of the store until it’s explosion and the anhililation of everyone within a considerable distance, including 5 young children. Five young children that Spufford revives in his – what if? -, five young children that he makes relive the rapidly changing years of the 20th century. I’ll add here that thanks to the 21st century we can see, ourselves, another rapidly changing world.

From childhood on we might guess where their lives are taking them, but that’s not taking into account the changes in the world and in the East of London. There is Vern, the wide boy, the chancer, where could he go in the East of London? From little booms to bust in scams, until the money comes to this part of London and then yeah, from big booms to bust.


Maybe he should have gone for the Café Royal? Vern quails as the taxi door opens, and it suddenly seems a long way across the pavement to the steps of Tognozzi’s, and a total toss-up whether McLeish will even get the point of the kind of understated, cripplingly expensive, visited-by-the-Queen poshness that this place represents. Footballers know about the Café Royal. They get taken there with their wives by the management when they win the Cup. There’s gold leaf, and bottles of bubbly going fwoosh, and a picture for the paper. It’s their idea of quality, isn’t it – of the high life? Yeah, he should have taken him there; or to do a bit of that kind of nightclubbing where posh meets gangland.


There’s Alec, a bright young lad, married, young working hard, apprenticed and then a type setter, taking his family forward, Fleet street, until technology gets the better of him and he is forced to face the truth, was his family ever really going forward with him?


Everyone knows that parenthood changes you: but he’d thought that meant the rearrangement that comes at the beginning of it, when you learn that your life is going to be curled protectively around the kids. He doesn’t know what to do with this recent, new rage, where you feel the pattern of hopes and expectations you’ve had for them all this time start to shrivel and unpick, at their initiative; where they let you know that they don’t want, or apparently even understand, what you want for them;


Teddy boys through to skin heads, always angry, seen through Val’s Mike, when your world finally implodes where do you go and how? Well Val takes us there.

Wow, a blast of fresh air, am I glad I chose this book! If the other shortlisted books are as good as this it’ll be one hell of a year.

First Published in English as “Light Perpetual” in 2021 by Faber and Faber.