Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Light, Figes’ eighth novel, offers yet another departure from her earlier works, although the structure of her second novel is similar in that it is limited to a single day. Each of Figes’ novels is an experiment, using a new mode to impose order on chaos, a mode different from any she has tried earlier. While Figes acknowledges the influence of T. S. Eliot, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, and Virginia Woolf, her fiction is different and distinctly her own.

While one may think of Woolf’s use of the stream-of-consciousness technique when reading Light, Figes uses the technique to quite different ends. The luncheon in Light differs radically from dinner with the Ramsays in To the Lighthouse (1927). There is no larger whole composed by the interrelated thoughts of different minds in Light. Mr. Ramsay needs reassurance from his wife and responses from everyone around him; Monet requires only submission. Lily’s apprehension of the reality beyond appearance is hers alone. Not only does she fail to communicate her visions, but also it does not occur to anyone that her perceptions could be of interest.

When Figes became known for Patriarchal Attitudes: Women in Society in 1970, she had already won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1967 for her second novel, Winter Journey (1967). Alienation, identity, lack of identity, the nature of reality versus the nature of art are Figes’ themes. Her innovative power in creating new modes to express various facets of these subjects is beyond question. The aesthetic precision of Light, and the rich density of its imagery, provide a provocative view of art as it anatomizes the artist.