CRADLE THE LIGHT
First in the
Reviewed by Joy
During World War II
Undercover agents for Britain don’t have the luxury of doing things for uncomplicated motives. Richard’s boss is worried that being tortured in an Italian prison has ruined Richard for further work as a saboteur. He asks Claire to find out for sure. He asks Richard to take care of newcomer Claire. Now the two are stuck with each other.
Claire and her writer father Jack have come to London from America. Jack is here because his human interest stories will be stronger when written in the middle of the bombings. Claire is here because she wants real experiences; her painting is becoming more powerful. Both are still hiding from the long-ago death of Jack’s wife, Claire’s mother, Katherine.
With a woman like Katherine in their past, who needs enemies? If Katherine’s family was just a drag on her poetic talent, what did that make them? After what they learned from Katherine, neither Jack nor Claire can choose love in their own lives. The most vivid people around them, from Richard’s boss to Claire’s art mentor to Jack’s betę noire, all throw into sharper contrast the self-withholding of father and daughter.
Richard’s mistrust of women and Claire’s determination to focus on painting should have led each of them to go their own way unheeding. Psychologically, that is what they would have done in real life – except for chemistry. Strange stuff, chemistry, no accounting for it. It turns the men in CRADLE THE LIGHT head over heels. Claire, on the other hand, has to go through a lot more consciousness-raising than they do before she knows what to aim for.
CRADLE THE LIGHT has an oddly self-centered feel to it. True, there are agonizingly vivid settings, such as a night underground during a bombing raid, but more often a chapter will begin with a scene-setting description, then dive into the viewpoint character’s internal feelings and pull the lid in after it. Caught in one of these emotional eddies, the character will explore his or her own feelings with no attempt to divine the real feelings of another party to the conversation. The character’s assumptions dominate every choice he or she sees. Those assumptions have little to do with reality; the reader knows this from being inside each character’s head.
You may well say that this is normal for screwed up human beings, and you would be right. The psychology most of the way through CRADLE OF LIGHT is well observed and reasoned. Then suddenly these intelligent human beings fly off the handle. Kablooey. If women in the 1940s acted the way Claire behaves in these final chapters, it would be no wonder men thought they were incompetent to handle everyday affairs. Of course, it’s not just women acting that way. Whoever it is, it’s bloody irritating to read. Not to mention dangerous to Claire.
I was drawn to CRADLE THE LIGHT by the artistic element: writing and painting. Author Vicki Gaia describes Claire’s painting as unusually bold for a woman. I would say the same thing about Gaia’s writing style. It gives an intriguing impression of broad strokes and surprising inclusions. This is a strong style: when she can keep her people out of melodrama, and anchor them more firmly in their physical surroundings, her stories will be strong, too.
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