Saturday, 30 October 2010

A Lifetime Burning

So, we’ve established by now that I have become quite a fan of Linda Gillard and her writing. I went back to visit her second book that I had not read yet. It’s called A Lifetime Burning.

When you realise what it is about you should cringe and shudder and most probably put the book down. But that would be a mistake.

The main topic is one that most of us would never dream to talk about, especially so openly. The main topic is about Incest.

There are a whole handful of characters in this book, all centred around the one family. And in some ways the whole family is centred around one family member called Rory. He is an amazing pianist. He also has a twin called Flora. And they love each other. Nothing unusual there I grant you but I think it would be more accurate to say they are in love with each other. And this is where you think it would get weird. And it does. The topics covered are very disturbing, but Linda’s writing brings such a realness to all her characters and everything that goes on that you can’t help but be intrigued. Not in a sick way but just the whole story unfolds and you find that you need to know just what is going to happen to this family.

The book is full of ups and downs and twists and turns. I didn’t have the luxury of reading this book from start to finish in one day but I had to read it over time – dipping in and out – and anyone that can keep me still really feeling the characters when I have to do that, well I know their writing is of another level.

The families acceptance of what is going on is what I think helps to slightly dilute the weirdness and disturbed angle of the subject matter, but don’t think for one minute that by acceptance I mean that family is ok with what is going on.

Running throughout this book is a very heavy reliance on music. There is a beautiful phrase used ‘If this play was being broadcast in Russian you wouldn’t have the option of interpretation. The meaning would stop at the actor’s mouth. But I could play you music in Russian and you’d understand it as well as a Russian! Well, you wouldn’t,’ he said scornfully, ‘but you see- they only work if you speak the language. But music works in any language because it doesn’t have a language. It’s faster, more direct. Like mainlining.’

This has been my theory for years that music takes over where words fail.

The music is just one theme of the book though, you have a vicar struggling with his sexuality, children born into the incestuous family, the trials of an every day life, struggles with money, family tragedy….it’s all here, wrapped up in very disturbing themes but so beautifully written about I would defy anyone not to be moved to some level whilst reading this book.

There is even a comment in the book about how easy it would be to accidentally commit incest, that really got me thinking about the ways of the world and some of the troubles that could lie ahead. But you’ll have to read the book to work out what I am talking about there.


  1. Thanks for this great review, Ali. It's practically impossible to review this without blowing the very complicated plot, but you've managed to convey your enthusiasm without giving too much away. :-)

    A LIFETIME BURNING really divides people and pushes a lot of buttons. I've known people walk out of book group meetings when it's been discussed and it's lost me 2 friends - nearly 3!

    Nevertheless, of all the books I've written, this is still my favourite. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I wanted to make sure I didn't give the plot away as I really wish everyone would read it - it opens you mind, your eyes, your heart. It blew my mind on so many levels. It's now officially up there with as one of my all time favorite books. A brilliant piece of work, and I am really glad you liked the review.

    I can't believe it lost you friends - I am sorry to hear that - but on the flip side - I think it's better to provoke a good or a bad reaction than to have a really bland blase response to something.

    Now hurry up and write book 4 :op