Review: By Light We Knew Our Names – Anne Valente

20949596Verdict: Beautiful but relentlessly bleak.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Published by Dzanc Books, September 2014

Find it on Goodreads.

From ghosts to pink dolphins to a fight club of young women who practice beneath the Alaskan aurora borealis, By Light We Knew Our Names examines the beauty and heartbreak of the world we live in. Across thirteen stories, this collection explores the thin border between magic and grief.

I have been trying and failing to write this review for days now. I don’t quite know how to review it still. I can say this though: I wanted to love this. But I didn’t.

The cover is beyond beautiful (even more so than it looks on the pictures) and Anne Valente’s writing is stunning but I struggled with how bleak this book was, relentlessly so. Short stories are often sad and often bleak but this felt unnecessarily cruel.

The stories focus loss and trauma. This is done extremely well but made it necessary for me to take long breaks between the stories. People lose somebody or something important to them and are suspended in this world of grief. I can intellectually understand how well structured the short stories were but reading them did not often give me pleasure. I also found the stories repetitive in their bleakness and their near hopelessness.

There were a few stories that I enjoyed – and these were the ones that were more hopeful and less devastating. Here Anne Valente’s talent for creating characters and stories really shone. The first story in this collection of a child finding out just how special they are worked exceptionally well and remained my favourite until the end.


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