Book Review: The Sunlit Night, by Rebecca Dinerstein

Publication date:  4th June 2015

Publisher:  Bloomsbury

Source:  Hardback copy received via publisher’s giveaway

Lost souls find their way in The Sunlit Night, which exhibits the awkwardness of life itself and how hesitance can so easily throw precious moments away.

This is a peculiar yet compulsive old story. Despite being relatively uneventful, it explores the characters’ respective journeys, but not necessarily their final destinations. A small flock of assorted folk appear on and off the stage at various intervals, including those seeking love, the ones where it has slipped through their fingers, or those not even knowing where to begin.

For me the highlight of this tale was actually the funeral of one the main characters’ father who wanted to be laid to rest at the top of the world, hence the setting of Lofoten in Norway where nineteen year old Yasha and his deceased father arrive. Referring to a burial as a ‘highlight’ is quite possibly the most inappropriate thing I’ve ever said about such a sombre occasion. But when the site of a replica Viking museum indulges the last wishes of a baker from New York, and the majority of the ceremony is ad-libbed by complete strangers under the argumentative guidance of three official mourners, it’s an event you won’t forget that easily!

One of the strangers attending the funeral is a twenty-one year old called Frances, a fellow New Yorker who had been sleepwalking through a relationship which left her feeling used. The good thing is it prompted her to seek fulfilment by painting the interior of an old asylum with yellow paint prior to the arrival of building inspectors, while an artist called Nils (‘The Inhibited’) tackles the exterior. Yes, the situations are strange and unusual but are fitting for this particular tale.

Yasha and Frances make both contributions and discoveries where the sun doesn’t set or rise. As the day rolls into night there is plenty of time for contemplation before forging a new self from the broken pieces they arrived with. They are each introduced and then given their own spotlight during the course of six parts followed by a ‘Coda’. It combines the realities they are escaping and what they may hope to discover on this remote but welcoming place on the globe, all sealed with its offbeat Nordic legend.

There is a simplistic beauty to The Sunlit Night. Crucially though, emotion was applied in moderation and life-changing decisions occurred in a matter of fact way, which meant I could only nibble around the edges of events rather than sink my teeth into them. That aside, I loved the premise of this one and the quirky characters made it an incredibly swift read.

Rating:  3/5

(I am most grateful to have received a copy of this lovely looking hardback following a giveaway run by the publisher, and I’m more than happy to provide an unbiased review. I’m just sorry it’s taken so long to read it – yep, I’m trying to catch up with the neglected TBR where I can!)

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been uprooted – Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha arrives from Brooklyn to fulfil his beloved father’s last wish: to be buried ‘at the top of the world’. They have come to learn how to be alone.

But in Lofoten, an archipelago of five tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, ninety-five miles north of the Arctic Circle, they form a bond that fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, offering solace amidst great uncertainty. In nimble and sure-footed prose, Dinerstein explores how far we travel to claim our own territory, while it is ultimately love that gives us our place in the world.

‘Marks the appearance of a brave talent’ Jonathan Safran Foer.


(Courtesy of author’s website)

REBECCA DINERSTEIN is the author of the novel The Sunlit Night and the bilingual English-Norwegian collection of poems Lofoten. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New Yorker online, among others. She received her B.A. from Yale and her M.F.A. in Fiction from New York University, where she was a Rona Jaffe Graduate Fellow. She lives in Brooklyn.



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