Light Boxes by Shane Jones

One sentence plot
A fantastical, whimsical fairy tale of a village rebelling against a never-ending winter with an allegorical twist.

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The Review
Ever since I finished this little book I’ve been swithering on my opinion. Was it an inspired, quirky, charming delight of a fable, beautifully rendered? Was it an insipid, self-conscious attempt to be clever and philosophical? Was it an allegorical autobiography of a writer’s depression? A metaphor-ridden study of seasonal affective disorder? A creepy, imagery-rich essay? A magical, whimsical poem? I think it might have been all of these.

The book, written mostly in one-page chapters, with font size and placement taking on particular significance, begs to be read in a single sitting. I obliged, and as I turned the pages the story unfolded: the little town whose inhabitants loved to fly in hot air balloons is trapped in an unremitting winter dubbed ‘February’, which robs them of their flight, their children and their joy in the world. They eventually rebel with all sorts of whimsical methods of defeating ‘February’, who indeed is increasingly personified until, well, I never really understand how to use the latest word in vogue, ‘meta’, but if I did, I suspect it would be an apt adjective here. Until it all becomes a bit meta. Mustn’t give more away. If that’s something you like, great. If it’s annoying, I’m with you.

This book promised a lot. But for all its poetic set-up and moments of beauty, occasional elements were worldly and jarring (how could mentioning myspace have seemed like a good idea?), and as it veered towards its conclusion it became increasingly self-absorbed and prosaic. In my view, be whimsical, or don’t be whimsical – a combination works poorly.

However, I must be fair: this book delivers a lot of its promise. Until I started writing this review, I still hadn’t really decided if I thought it was brilliance or saccharine pomposity. There are elements of both. But I bet the author is feeling very proud of how very clever he is. And looking forward to making money from the perhaps inevitable film version. Which annoys me enough to demote the book to a rating of 3/5. But it’s a short, fascinating read that I think will affect different people in very different ways. So don’t be deterred! This one’s hard to pin down, except to say: unusual.

The verdict: 3/5 shoes

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