Sunday, 20 March 2011

27/111 – Light Boxes by Shane Jones

Another short book! Well, it’s not so much that it’s short, it’s also incredibly small. Teeny, lovely little thing, which is what attracted me to it in the first place. According to the blurb, this book had a first print run of only 500 copies before becoming a somewhat cult, word-of-mouth success and getting picked up by Penguin, so I was interested pretty quickly. It’s a really interesting little book, and quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before – very innovative. The tone of it reminded me a little of Alex Garland’s The Coma, which I found to be a little bleak and strange, but sort of wonderful.

At its heart, Light Boxes is a fairytale, albeit a dark one - very abstract and filled with weird and haunting symbolism. Thaddeus is husband to Selah and father to Sofia. The village they live in is being held hostage by the season on February, who has reigned for more than three hundred days. There appears to be no hope for sun or Spring, and February has stopped all flight, to the disappointment of the balloon-loving residents. Soon, villagers are found dead and children begin to disappear from their beds, including Sofia. A group of men called The Solution approaches Thaddeus about leading a war effort against February, which involves everything from attempting fly to dressing in summer clothes and pretending Spring has arrived.

The course of the action is hard to put across, so I’ll leave the book to speak for itself. It’s told from a variety of points of view, and there are some characters which are difficult or even impossible to separate from one another. The most striking thing I felt whilst reading this book was that it is clearly about depression – the manifestation which is more commonly known as the Winter Blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a kind of depression which occurs during the Winter months due to a lack of sunlight. Very northern places like Alaska and high up in Sweden and Norway are affected more severely, and as a result they tend to have a higher suicide rate, but people all over the world can be affected too. One of the most popular treatments for SAD is… Light Boxes.

Light boxes are extremely powerful lamps which the user is supposed to use daily for an allotted time (depending on the strength of the light and the severity of their illness). They are extremely bright. I have one of my own and I love it. It’s hard to say whether it makes much of a difference, but it transforms a dull, grey English day into one which seems passably sunny. They are mostly useful for regulating your sleep/wake cycles. When it’s dark a lot of the time, your body can get confused, and in the Winter, there is more of an urge to sleep a lot (or hibernate), so light boxes are one way to combat that.

In Thaddeus’s village, light boxes are one of the tools they build to try and combat February, and references to sadness and depression are made frequently throughout. February himself seems to be suffering badly from the illness, and as I progressed through the book, the more convinced I became that this tale was an allegory for a writer’s struggle with depression. In February’s mind, it is the sad, grey month of February all the time. Thaddeus is his inner self, leading the war effort to do everything they can to end the reign of February. I have heard that the film rights have been bought for this, and I’m really interested to see what they do with it, as I have my own very firm idea in mind of how it could be interpreted.

Visually it’s also pretty stunning – Jones uses a variety of interesting typesetting techniques such as different fonts, different text sizes, and other devices such as lists, which was unexpected. I’m not sure how much it really added to the book, but it was really cool to see something experimental.

A strange delight. Read this in one sitting with a pot of mint tea. You’ll see why.

Next up: Atomised by Michel Houellebecq

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