Newest Review: ... the book. The neighbouring farm to Matties is owned by a really poor family, a mother of several grubby half starved children who tu... more
Mattie's time of decisions
A Gathering Light - Jennifer Donnelly
Member Name: catsholiday
A Gathering Light - Jennifer Donnelly
Advantages: Beautifully written and lovely characters
Disadvantages: None for me - thought it was great
"A Gathering Light" by Jennifer Donnelly
This was another book picked up from the Westfield Centre Bookcrossing shelf and one I thought might appeal to both my husband and me. From the blurb on the back it sounded like it might be a bit of crime fiction but in fact despite the fact that the story is loosely based on a read murder that shocked the district at the time in the Adirondack Mountain area of New York State at the turn of the century there rarely us not much of the story in the book that is to do with the crime.
The story is set in the poor farming community in the Adirondack mountains and the central character, Mattie is about seventeen. Her mother has died of cancer and her father is struggling to cope with his poor farm and bringing up four daughters, his only son has left home after a major row with the father.
Mattie is also struggling to cope with little money, few provisions and squabbling siblings. She is very bright and writes brilliant stories which she is encouraged to take further by her teacher. Her father she knows will not allow her to fulfil her ambition and go to New York to college as he needs her back with him to help run the farm.
Mattie has a good friend in Weaver who is equally bright and very able at mathematics as well as literature. His mother has escaped from the south where blacks are considered inferior and has worked herself really hard saving money so that Weaver can go to New York to college and study to be a lawyer. Mattie and Weaver study together and both are being helped by extra coaching from their teacher. They play a game of choosing a word from the dictionary each day and 'duel' with the word saying similes for that word until one cannot say a word - that person has then lost the word duel. The chapter titles are words from the dictionary chosen by Mattie and this is a theme throughout the book.
The neighbouring farm to Matties is owned by a really poor family, a mother of several grubby half starved children who turn up at Mattie's house for food almost daily. The next farm over is an efficient farm as the family have sons who all work and contribute to the farm. This farm is the Loomis farm and the second eldest son takes a shine to Mattie and they are soon 'Sparking' which is their word for 'dating' it seems.
The story flits backwards and forwards a bit but not majorly so and it starts with the drowning and finding the body of the young girl in the lake. The search is still on for her companion, a young man who they think is called Carl Grahm as that is the name he registered under at the hotel but Mattie hears the young girl, Grace calling him Chester during the meal they share while Mattie waits on the tables at the hotel. Before they leave for their boat ride Grace gives Mattie a bundle of letters and tells her to burn them. Needless to say she doesn't do this straight away then her curiosity gets the better of her, she reads them and discovers that there is more to the drowning than it appears.
Mattie is working at the hotel to help her father pay for a new mule as their old mule has died. Weaver is also working there to save for his college fees and train fare. There are other young people working at the hotel and the two of them interact with them in many different situations. One quite funny story is when one dirty old guest flashes the young waitresses when they serve him at the table. They plan an act of revenge and achieve his total humiliation without their fathers needing to find out what he has been doing. Typical of the time and type of community the girls dare not mention it as they feel people would say they asked for that sort of attention and they would get into trouble!
So the story is really about a poor farming community and their lives and how they interact with each other I loved the words like 'sparking' which come into the story and these contrast with the words like 'monochromatic' that Mattie finds in her dictionary for her words of the day and has to use in as many sentences as she can and find similes for it too if duelling with Weaver.
Mattie and Weaver's teacher turns out to be a bit of an author and has a secret of her own which they find out later in the story. There is a reason that she is so keen to encourage Mattie in her reading and writing of her poems and compositions.
Mattie is going through a time of major decisions in her life. She is just seventeen and has no mother. She is very torn between her dream of going to New York to college and becoming a writer, her responsibilities to her family and the excitement of a rather eligible young man 'sparking' with her. Her mental torment of which path to follow merges with her reading of the dead victim of drowning and in some ways their stories are similar and yet very different.
I found this book to be very well written, almost poetic at times. It would make a very lovely film with the right director as the scenery and images would really lend themselves to that genre. I haven't heard of the author previously but will certainly keep an eye out for any other books she has written, this one gives no information about her or any other work.
Mattie not only works in the hotel but prior to this she was helping her father cope with the farm and the children and also cleaning for her aunt, her mother's sister who is a snobby, nosy parker with a fine collection of china and money that could help her family but she chooses not to for reasons of her own.
The characters are vivid and alive. Even those like Mattie's father who appear to be hard and cruel have a story that makes the reader warm to them. Mattie is of course the central character but she touché so many other lives within the story that we get a very good feel for the entire community and how they live and interact. Mattie's father's brother, a logging river man returns for a couple of days and his arrival changes their father into a warmer character briefly and you see why he has become the hard person he appears. Uncle Fifty brings a breath of fresh air and an element of fun and happiness to the family.
There are ups and downs, trials and heartbreak, terrible deaths, parties, fights, racial attacks and so much more. The book lifts you up then makes you cry, the changes are constant and there is never a time when the story drags or you feel you can put the book down. I read this in a day while travelling and really felt that I had become a part of the community or at least an onlooker.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
"This is a wonderfully rich, involving and beautifully written book." Guardian
"If George Clooney had walked into the room I would have told him to come back later when I had finished." Sunday Telegraph
"A breathtakingly good novel." Daily Mail
At the end of the book the author tells a bit more about the actual murder of the girl Grace Brown and what actually happened. She explains that there were letters found in Grace's things and that the letters from Grace were then found in the home of the man she was with, the murderer. This is not giving anything away from the story as really it has no effect on the story and is incidental to the plot, you could read this part first and not lose anything of the story told in the book.
I really enjoyed this and do hope the author has written more books. She has a gentleness of touch and a lovely way of letting the characters come to life. This is a really well written and moving book and I would heartily recommend it.
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Summary: A lovely thought provoking family story set at the turn of the century