Book Review (Fiction): ‘Bright Burning Things’ by Lisa Harding | Books

“Bright Burning Things” by Lisa Harding. (HarperVia / TNS)


By Kevin Canfield Star Tribune

Sonya Moriarty was once a successful actress, but lately the former sweetheart of the London scene has discovered that the actual role she covets – that of someone who can say no to a drink – is beyond her reach. “How easier it is to live in someone else,” she says.

The protagonist of “Bright Burning Things”, the incisive novel by Irish writer Lisa Harding, Sonya is intelligent and talented, temperamental and infuriating. She is a loving but impulsive single mother. A moralizing crank. A charismatic artist. And a woman who, at the dawn of middle age, fights many demons.

Harding’s plot is simple. Sonya, who drinks oceans of wine, is desperate to pull herself together for fear of losing her 4-year-old son, Tommy.

Sonya’s days are shaped by binge eating, hangovers, and an undisputed defensive attitude. When she briefly loses track of Tommy on a beach, a haughty stranger questions her parenting skills. Back home, a curious neighbor asks why Sonya doesn’t let Tommy drink milk. She responds with a rant of cruelty to animals: “Disgusting … Calves hoarse themselves.”

Sonya may be an uncompromising vegan, but otherwise she doesn’t have much control over her impulses. She embarrasses Tommy in public, then, at home, is marinated in white wine. When she passes out, Tommy must take care of himself – a frightening scenario given his fascination with fire.

Colin L. Johnson