Thank you to Audiobook Jukebox and Simon & Schuster Audio for allowing us access to the audiobook, A Sudden Light by Garth Stein. This was a grand read! Family secrets, family legacies, many generations, ghosts, spirits, nature, a haunted mansion… There was quite a bit going on in here and it all kept me highly interested from start to finish. A great and satisfying read.
I listened to the audio version and it was fine, nothing stellar mind you in the narration, Seth Numrich narrates and with only a twinge of the drag queen when he spoke (“Sister”) Serena’s part, the rest was perfectly fine. But again, nothing that stood out as exceptional, but nothing to truly complain about either. However, with less than 2 hours remaining, the audio crapped out on me. I quickly ran to the library to grab the hardcopy. I’m very happy I finished it in this manner actually – a great and satisfying finish. But, that’s getting way ahead of ourselves…
Trevor is an older man when he shares this story, but he’s settling in to tell us of the time when he was 14 and went to his father’s childhood home – the Riddell House. The plan then was to go, help his father’s sister Serena force his grandfather out to an assisted living facility, sell the Riddell Estate to developers and cash in and live happily ever after. At that time, his dad was flat broke, his parents had separated and for Trevor, the whole deal seemed to be pretty cut and dry – his intent was to get his parents back together and the way to do that was to help Serena and his father, Jones, to rid themselves of Riddell House. Trevor knows nothing of the Riddell Legacy, its beginnings with Elijah Riddell, the timber tycoon, and the promise Elijah made to his son Ben about returning the Riddell Estate to its natural untamed state. Trevor also knows nothing of his own father’s reasons for not returning to Riddell House for so many years or what truly happened with his father’s mother, father and sister. Trevor has never heard his father speak of his family nor have they ever visited or seen any member of his family until the moment he arrives on the front doorstep of Riddell House.
Here, Trevor meets his beautiful aunt Serena, his grandfather whom seemingly suffers from dementia, along with a whole whack of family secrets and ghosts! Within his first week there he uncovers the ancestral story of Elijah, of his great and significant wealth acquired from his impressive timber industry and of this promise to his son Ben. The promise was to return the Riddell Estate to its natural and untamed state and to never profit from the land again. However, the loophole here is that his future heirs may not have to adhere to this rule. This is the loophole where Serena and Jones are pushing forward with in order to profit considerably from the sale of the estate.
Trevor uncovers the story and the history behind this promise, and is often visited by the ghost of Ben and also uncovers Ben’s journals, papers and diaries found in hidden, closed off parts of the house. These parts of A Sudden Light were fascinating. The use of journals, dreams and hauntings to reveal the story of Ben and his secret lover and the promise he made his father Elijah adhere to, kept me riveted.
And yet, there is still more to this family and the Riddell legacy that Trevor struggles to uncover or piece together in a manner that makes sense to him. Trevor is puzzled by the stories his grandfather repeats and how he seems to sometimes channel Ben. His grandfather firmly repeats that he cannot leave the house because Isobel (his long dead wife) remains and dances for him. He cannot leave while she is still there to dance for him. Trevor too hears her dancing, hears the music and thinks that maybe he has seen her apparition dancing in the ballroom. Even more puzzling to Trevor is why his father left and what the relationship was between his mother, father and sister Serena. He longs to understand the truth about what happened to their mother. As he slowly begins to piece together the story of his father, aunt and grandfather, his love for his grandfather grows, as does his determination to help set things right for Ben Riddell and the Riddell House.
This part of the storyline also keeps you riveted, although not nearly as much for me as the “Ben” storyline did. You quickly ascertain that Serena is a weirdly manipulative person very intent on ridding herself of the Riddell House and her part in shaping the life of her father and her expectations for her brother, Jones. As I mentioned above, the audio download crapped out on me with less than two hours left in the story. And it was the part where Trevor was starting to piece everything together and formulate his proof to unveil to his father! I quickly ran to the nearest branch of my library and took the hard copy out. To be honest, I was quite pleased to finish it in this manner. The narration by Seth Numrich was fine, I really had no complaints outside of his slight drag queen lilt when speaking Serena’s part. Although he did a fine job of voicing her manipulative and “bitchy” tone well enough, the final parts of the story conclude when Trevor is summing up the story of what ultimately happened to his grandfather, his parents, and Serena to his wife and daughters. That would mean four additional female voices. At any rate, the ending to A Sudden Light is a great and satisfying one! Great build up and close!
A Sudden Light was an excellent story complete with parts mystery, ghosts, multigenerational sagas and family secrets. Wonderful! Either manner you choose to read, whether in hard copy or audio, I’m certain you will find it to be the grand and fulfilling tale I found it to be.