Saturday, March 06, 2010

Illuminating the Lighted Rooms

I've been reading Richard Mason's The Lighted Rooms - a book which might have appealed to me solely by its Larkin-inspired title had it not been lent to me for my recent holidays. An unusual study of dementia, it was at once gripping and illuminating - and no, that's not a pun - though occasionally the familiarity of a situation described would have me wincing in recognition. This was particularly true, I think, in the description of the expensive nursing home in which Joan, one of the main characters, takes up residence - all the "advantages" which distinguish such establishments from the hotels they seek to emulate add up to a prison in Joan's eyes and are so well described as to make any reader uncomfortable.

And yet this story conveys not pathos but a kind of joyous heroism, as Joan makes easy friendships with two very different young men, inspiring their loyalty and gratitude in a way which her competitive and successful daughter cannot. On the way to the"triumphant serenity" achieved by Joan at the novel's end, we learn about such diverse subjects as British concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer war and the operation of hedge funds, but it is in the illumination of the "Lighted Rooms" that Larkin thought might make up the sum of consciousness of old people that Mason's chief accomplishment lies. It seems not quite right to say I enjoyed the book, but I was riveted by it and recommend it wholeheartedly. And if you're looking for a Book Group subject, there are some helpful suggestions for discussion at the end.

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