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Monday, July 5, 2010

'A Certain Slant of Light' by Laura Whitcomb

From the BLURB:

In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helenterrified, but intriguedis drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

I love the feeling of falling in love with a book. It happens when you’ve read the very last line and breathed a sigh of relief/sadness. Relief to know how this precious story ends, and sadness because your first reading is over and the journey at an end.
That happened with this book, Laura Whitcomb’s ‘A Certain Slant of Light’. I got to the very last line and breathed out a teary sigh of happiness, and promptly decided to pay this book forward and spread word of its brilliance.

‘A Certain Slant of Light’ sat on my TBR shelf for two years (I know! I’m kicking myself now!). I bought this book on a whim, after Amazon recommended it to me. But the blurb reminded me a little bit of Alice Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’ which is a book I *HATE* with a fiery, molten passion. Both are books about ghostly love, and I was reluctant to try Whitcomb’s book after ‘Lovely Bones’ left such a bad taste in my mouth. I thought Sebold’s infamous novel had a fantastic idea, poorly executed... and don’t even get me started on the bizarre ending that just massacred the whole thing. But where Sebold faltered, Whitcomb soared.

‘A Certain Slant of Light’ is a ghost love story.
Helen is ‘Light’; she is a ghost with no memories of her mortal life and no knowledge of why she is stuck in limbo. Helen haunts the ‘Quick’ – regular humans whom she is drawn to for their love of poetry and literature. She has had five ‘hosts’ in her afterlife, people whom she follows around and uses as an anchor to stay in the world and not be dragged down to hell.
Nobody can see Helen, until one day in her current host’s English class when a student’s eyes follow her around the room. Billy Blake can see Helen – for the first time in a hundred years she holds a mortal’s eye.

But Billy is not what he seems. Billy is actually ‘James’, another Light who has taken up residence in Billy’s body after the young boy OD’d and seemingly gave up on life.
In James, Helen finds the true love that she instinctively knows she missed out on in her mortal life. To be with him, Helen takes control of the body of a girl named Jenny who, like Billy, chose to soulfully vacate her body to escape her parent’s suffocating religious household.
But how long can Helen and James live these false lives? What price will they pay to stay together?

This is Laura Whitcomb’s first novel, which is absolutely unbelievable to me. Whitcomb’s writing is luscious – a literary treat that warmed me to read. Some of her sentences and paragraphs are such tasty little morsels that you read them, pop them in your mouth and they melt on your tongue. Whitcomb’s writing is heavily influenced by poetry – which is obvious from the Emily Dickinson title and Helen’s love of literature. But the influence goes deeper – in the way Whitcomb crafts a sentence to read lyrical and is pin-point precise with her descriptions – like describing water temperature as being ‘warm as mother’s milk’. Urgh! Utterly gorgeous!

As delicious as the writing is, ‘A Certain Slant of Light’ isn’t so heavy that more emphasis is put on the ‘literary’ over plot. This is a story that will have you on edge, laughing out loud and crying into the pages.

Helen and James’s love is beautiful and epic. Theirs is a beautiful story of soul-mate’s, enhanced rather than dampened by the fact that they found each other in death instead of life. They have so many obstacles to overcome, and so many heartbreaking decisions to make. But you’re right there with them for the whole grand, gut-wrenching journey because their love is so completely obvious and glorious... a true treasure to read.

The book is primarily a love story, but also a mystery as Helen and James both try to piece together the memories of their mortal lives and deaths. There’s also a terrible sense of foreboding that permeates the novel. Helen and James are, quite literally, ‘body snatchers’. And even though you are happy for them when they find a way to physically be together, you keep wondering how long the charade can last. It’s made all the more intense when Helen is thrown into Jenny’s evangelical household – after Helen spent her afterlife positive that she was damned by God;

“Why do you think that is?” he asked. “Why were we haunting this life?”
“I did something dreadful,” I confessed.
“What was it?” he asked without a moment’s apprehension.
“I can’t remember.” Why would you want to remember a horror? I didn’t know whether God had stolen my memories as a punishment, but it felt like a blessing.
“Whatever it was,” said James, “I forgive you.”

If I had to describe ‘A Certain Slant of Light’ in one word? ... ‘Glorious’! I can’t praise this book or Laura Whitcomb enough. I tip my hat to the fact that this was Whitcomb’s first novel, which is both inspiring and envy-inducing. I will surely be doing a re-read, and hunting down any subsequent Whitcomb novels.


BIG thanks to ‘Tempting Persephone’ for convincing me to read this book and promising me I’d love it.

By Emily Dickinson:

There's a certain slant of light,

On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 't is like the distance
On the look of death.


  1. oooooh interesting! adding it to my TBR! Great review!!! =)))

  2. Just thought I'd let you know that I got Killing me softly on NetGalley and I also got books 2 and 3 of the series there... =)))


  3. I've heard good things about this one, even had it out from the library but didn't get to it before it had to go back, someone had requested it. I'll need to get it again and be sure to read it this time. Great review!


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