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Black Light.

Black Light is the second New Zealand novel to be published in 1996 by a young writer of huge promise and likely future importance. Twenty-one-year-old Laura Solomon, like her acclaimed contemporary Emily Perkins (see WLT 71:2, p. 465), also has a background in theater and writing for the performing arts. The publisher's blurb announces that Black Light "is the first of many proposed works of fiction" from this author, and the fulfillment of this is to be eagerly anticipated.

Black Light is an intriguing work, in essence dealing with an aspiring novelist, Jim, and the characters his milieu and mind contain. The progress of the novel traces Jim's steadily gathering loss of control and distancing from reality. At the end he steps up with his shadow into the dark, where the lamp is silent, and black. Along the way - and it is a difficult, albeit intriguing way, where the sense of one following a tortured and fragmented crazy route dawns mysteriously - there is much enjoyment. Solomon writes at least very well where she is not writing in a very sophisticated manner. There is humor, a prevailing earthiness, and several fascinating recurring motifs: for example, the milieu of the Fat Girls Arms, a pub where Jim treats his mates to excerpts of the work in progress.

Sections of the work mirror the epistolary mode, giving the novel a complex, layered quality. These are letters between characters who exist within Jim's work in progress; but their reality is equivocal, and they contribute to the confusion overtaking the author of these authors. A further motif is that of the circus - perhaps a symbol of escape, a rogue subculture, always on the move, here today and gone tomorrow, a contrivance, an existence with illicit overtones challenging conventionality.

The mildest quibble one might have with Solomon's novel is her choice of the pretty well hackneyed writer/artist vocation as the central mediating mode, as it were, for the central people. Artists and writers may well be "different" by virtue of preoccupation and perhaps perception; but not that many live other than completely normal and conventional lives, and their vocations have probably too long struggled with the Van Gogh syndrome. That is not to say that Solomon might have written a more satisfying novel about bricklayers or freezing workers, but surely among these occupations are not a few who have lost it along the way too.

A further accolade for Black Light, and one rarely accorded, must be due to the publisher for the fine production of the book itself. The typography of the novel is outstanding and refreshing, and the format is that of a volume forty centimeters taller than the conventional paperback. With the slightly narrower print area that this gives, Laura Solomon's book is a surprisingly comfortable read.

Stephen Oxenham Carterton, N.Z.
COPYRIGHT 1997 University of Oklahoma
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Oxenham, Stephen
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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