The Sunlit Night
Copy courtesy Bloomsbury ANZ/TheReadingRoom.com
Artistically inclined Frances knocked back an internship at the top of the world in order to spend summer with her boyfriend. After they split up, she discovers that the internship is still available and so she travels from New York, leaving behind her parents who are splitting up and her sister who is getting married, to the far north. A string of tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea is where Frances will call home as she works with a famous artist who is painting only in shades of yellow beneath a sun that never sets.
Yasha lives in Brooklyn, the son of a baker. He and his father fled Russia when Yasha was small, leaving behind his mother who always promised to come later. Now Yasha is heading to the top of the world to fulfill a promise he made to his father, who wished to be buried there. Deep in his grief and accompanied by his mother, whom he has long been estranged from and who he blames for his father’s death, Yasha discovers Frances and the artist and the two of them forge an unlikely relationship.
I picked up this book to read because of the cover. I think it’s so beautiful. It sounded quirky and a bit fun and I was interesting in reading about what it would be like to be in a place where the sun never really sets, as is the case in Lofoten for a couple of months in the summer (in the winter for over a month, the sun never makes an appearance). I also realised a week or two ago that we’re almost six months into the year and I haven’t yet read a book for the Around The World in 12 Books Challenge, so I wanted to use this book for that as well.
I enjoyed the set up, both Frances and Yasha in New York. Frances comes from a very artistic Jewish family and her parents are currently horrified at the man her sister is marrying and then drop a bombshell on the two girls that they are separating. Frances will soon no longer have a home anyway, so it’s best that she take the internship in Norway and visit the top of the world, learning to paint in shades of yellow. Frances is in her early twenties, rather straightforward and doesn’t seem prone to much emotion. Nothing really seems to bother her, not her splitting up with her boyfriend, not her parent’s bombshell and subsequent estrangement from her sister. She spends time skyping her parents from Norway and although she tries to encourage them to attend her sister’s wedding, to be honest she never really seems to be that bothered about it or that invested in really attempting to get them to reconcile with her sister.
Yasha was a much more interesting character. He’s younger, in his last year of school and has lived with his father above the bakery his father runs in Brooklyn from the time he was small. His mother was supposed to follow them from Russia but has never appeared, always making excuses and then disappearing entirely. Yasha’s father has something wrong with his heart, so when Yasha learns something rather surprising, he chooses to keep it from his father rather than upset him. When his father dies overseas whilst they are in Moscow, Yasha decides to make good on one of his father’s wishes, choosing to bury him at the ‘top of the world’ which is how he and Frances come to meet, when Yasha arrives to bury his father’s body.
And this is where the story kind of lost me a little bit. I really liked the character of Yasha and I felt desperately sorry for him in his grief and his predicament. Carrying out something like this at such a young age would be very hard and he has the added complication of the resurfacing of his mother, who was a character I struggled with. Yasha needed a lot of things, but the relationship with Frances that developed struck me as a bit strange. It happens very, very fast, there’s no development, there’s no chemistry. Actually, there’s barely an interaction. It seemed very jarring when it did happen, not in the least because Yasha isn’t even eighteen yet.
The descriptions are very beautiful and if you haven’t googled Lofoten, then I suggest you do so because there are some utterly stunning pictures of scenery from the islands. I think the book gave quite a good picture of the surroundings and the conditions (the beach scene in particular) and the descriptions of the journeys to and from the islands are very good too but I would’ve liked to read more about Frances’ feelings living in a place where the sun is always out. They keep strange hours but there’s no real account of how she feels about this, what the impact is on her of the lifestyle and her thoughts and feelings. To be honest, Frances doesn’t seem to have too many feelings about anything, despite her claim at the end of the book. She seems pretty emotionless about everything around her, like she’s just going through the motions of life. Yasha seemed more concerned about hooking up with Frances than much about the scenery around him but perhaps that was just his way of coping with his grief and it doesn’t matter to him whether the sun is out 24hrs a day or not at all.
This one was a mixed bag. Huge ticks for the unusual, remote location which was new to me and very enjoyable and Yasha was a positive as well. However Frances didn’t really work for me and a lot of her narration was very disappointing.
Book #109 of 2015
The Sunlit Night is book #1 of my Around the World in 12 Books Challenge. We visited Norway/the Arctic Circle.