Title: A Spark of Light
Author: Jodi Picoult
Published: October 2nd 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5/4 stars
When Vonita opened the doors of the Center that morning, she had no idea that it would be for the last time.
Wren has missed school to come to the Center, the sole surviving women’s reproductive health clinic in the state, chaperoned by her aunt, Bex. Olive told Peg she was just coming for a check-up. Janine is undercover, a pro-life protester disguised as a patient. Joy needs to terminate her pregnancy. Louie is there to perform a service for these women, not in spite of his faith, but because of it.
When a desperate and distraught gunman bursts into the Center, opening fire and taking everyone hostage, Hugh McElroy is the police negotiator called to the scene. He has no idea that his fifteen-year-old daughter is inside.
Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.
Jodi Picoult – one of the most fearless writers of our time – tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation … and, hopefully, understanding.
It is hard to believe that A Spark of Light is Jodi Picoult’s twenty third novel. Following on from the success of her previous book, Small Great Things, Picoult delves into matters of race, women’s rights, religion and legislation. A Spark of Light takes us to a state in the deep south area of the US, Mississippi, and unfolds events surrounding a hostage situation in a women’s clinic that also performs terminations. Picoult’s latest demonstrates her innate ability to bring controversial and emotionally fraught topics to the forefront, through her relatable characters.
Picoult has used a different narrative device in her latest novel. A Spark of Light is structured in reverse chronological order. This is an interesting angle to take, providing an insight into the final dramatic turn of events in the opening chapter and closing it all off in the last chapter of the book. Each chapter is marked by time, opening at 5pm, and it winds back each chapter hour by hour. This timeline takes place over a ten hour period, until we do a loop back to 6pm the same night. Although I found this a little disorienting as I am a reader who likes a clear linear structure, I did find merit in this alternative style of narrative. It also worked well to highlight the events and the heightened emotions of the characters featured in A Spark of Light.
There is an extended cast in A Spark of Light, but Picoult manages to give us a very good overview of their fateful experience at the clinic that day and their personal history. Picoult also ensures that she has a good cross section of characters, from the troubled gunman, patients attending the clinic, a pro life campaigner, the doctor of the clinic and the police negotiator, among others. Gradually as these stories are revealed, the links are made and we develop a sense of deep care for their welfare. Through these agreeable characters, we begin to build a broader picture of the hostage situation and how this fits into the bigger picture, which links to wider themes of rights, law, politics and religion.
Jodi Picoult has completed a lot of homework to bring A Spark of Light to publication (be sure to check out her extensive bibliography). Her approach is educative, enlightening and informative. We are given plenty of facts and figures on the laws, as well as legislation involving terminations in the US. In addition, Picoult takes a no holds back approach to the medical side of her novel. This is perhaps the only issue I had with this novel and I do issue a trigger warning. A full account of a termination procedure is included within the book. I could see that this aspect was necessary to the storyline, but I did feel it may upset some readers. I did find it a little too hard to stomach personally.
It can be hard to place yourself in the middle of a topic that is so debated, subjected to restrictions and largely consider taboo. However, I feel Jodi Picoult, even though she has her own personal feelings on the subject matter at hand, does deliver a proportional impression of a big issue. Picoult is a valiant storyteller and although A Spark of Light may shock and possible offend, I do hope it opens up the channels about an area that is often swept under the carpet.
A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult was published on 2nd October 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.