I just finished David Rocklin’s The Luminist, and I’m still a little weepy from it. Don’t let that scare you off from this fabulous book, though. This is a perfect novel for dark dreary Winter days, when we turn from the fluffy beachside reads of summer to more contemplative tomes.
This book is about many things: the British occupation of Ceylon in the late 1800s, cultural tensions during any time of empire building, one woman’s obsession with what would later be developed into modern photography, one boy’s obsession with finding a place in his own heart. The novel is told from two perspective- Catherine Colebrook, whose pursuit of early photography is a scandal in her time, and Eligius, who comes of age during a time when his homeland has been seized from his people and all knowledge turned inside out.
I have to say this is a compelling book. I felt an affinity for Eligius right away, and none at all for any of the British characters. Yet I couldn’t put it down. Rocklin does such a wonderful job of crawling inside his character’s head, and leaving us to fill in the blanks. He blends the science of early photography (a deadly art, given the chemicals involved) with the passions of two nations in turmoil, and the turmoil of people who are caught in the middle. No one person is this novel was entirely evil, or entirely good, or even entirely certain and without inner conflict. This, of course, only heightened the realism of it.
I think I’ll be carrying the memory of this novel for a long time, and I can only hope that Rocklin continues writing- he clearly has a talent for it.