(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The action of Light takes place on a single day, from first light to nightfall, in the summer of 1900, and focuses on an artist in thrall to his craft and the people around him who live in a world dominated by him. In pursuit of his art, Claude Monet has built his own version of Eden at Giverny. He has painstakingly designed the gardens and even rerouted a stream to modify the lily pond which he carefully monitors.

The novel falls into three parts. The first period, chapters 1 through 6, from dawn to midday, presents the stream of consciousness of each character as he or she begins and progresses through the morning.

Monet arises in the predawn hour to go to the lily pond, while his wife lies awake in another room, suffering in the darkness from insomnia and claustrophobia. Obsessed with capturing the ephemeral truth, or light, of this world waterlilies, people, flowers Monet believes that he can penetrate, can see through to the essence of life only at dawn, when everything sky, water, land is in perfect balance, unified into one composite whole. On this particular day, at the instant in which Monet perceives that the one perfect moment of light has arrived, he believes that he is at the very center of the world.

While Monet’s obsession isolates him from those around him, his wife, Alice Raingo Hoschede, is, in her own way, just as isolated. Daily, she makes a pilgrimage to the grave of her daughter, Suzanne, and in her continuing grief, Alice feels outside time, as if “the wall separating night and day, the visible and invisible had crumbled....” She can almost feel her own mother’s hand stroking her hair. Such sensory apparitions make Alice feel more connected to the dead than to the living. She can breathe in the peace of the graveyard, lifesaving breath that is unavailable to her in her own home.

Lily Butler, her grandchild, awakes to a world newly created for her pleasure. In contrast to her grandmother’s protest against this fleeting visible world, Lily glories in the sensory delights of the moment. She is entranced by light, sound, smell, weight, weightlessness, color (as manifested in rose petals), an...

(The entire section is 892 words.)