Bodies of Light
by Sarah Moss
Review by Rosalie Wodecki
It’s the exquisite cover of Bodies of Light that first catches your attention. For such a breathtaking beauty, this novel has dark elements and is often startling and cutting in its detail. There is brutality and pain deftly mixed with tenderness and eloquence. But the brutal nature of this story rings true for its time and place in Victorian England.
The treatment of the women, both young and old, is as fierce and harsh as its setting demands. However, the cruelty of this truth means that the story is not for the faint of heart. At the centre of the tale is the battle between the young Ally and her evangelist mother, Elizabeth. Ally longs for her mother’s approval and it’s this desire that is the catalyst for most of the events that unfold. It’s an unhappy longing, but it’s a useful and well-told reason for Ally’s fervour to go where she needs to go – to try to become one of the first female doctors in England.
Beyond the personal family story, Sarah Moss intricately weaves in art and medical history. The fascinating and gruesome tales of Victorian medicine are tempting enough to make you want to discover more. They are presented as a natural part of the storytelling, not as awkward add-ons. It is historical fiction at its finest. The later, brief scenes with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson are convincing, vivid and memorable. The first English female doctor is present and real. And at no point does she resemble a mere inserted ‘fact’.
Sarah’s book is told with pace and rhythm. The thought of what might happen to Ally and her younger and less troubled sister, May, grips you fiercely and forces you to read on. The beginning of each chapter is painted with a moment of artistic delight and poetic prose. A quiet and gentle breath that is a welcome ebb in such tightly paced writing.
For Ally and May, there are a few hints of off-stage unpleasantness that are never fully explained. And that’s a little frustrating. This is the first in a two book series and while Bodies of Light can definitely stand alone, you are left with a hope that book two, Signs for Lost Children, will answer the questions that remain.
Rosalie Wodecki is a writer who specialises in plain English and writing for the web. She’s quite keen on sharing knowledge – any way she can and for all sorts of people. In her spare time she writes stories and takes photos. And just generally makes things up. She thinks science is cool.