First light

by Peter Ackroyd

Paper Book, 1989




New York : Grove Press, c1989.


Written by the author of Hawksmoor, winner of the Whitbread Prize for Fiction, and Chatterton, this is a pastoral novel of the late 20th century in which the author meditates on the nature of history, the problem of time and the true qualities of the English landscape.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Bookmarque
Every time I read a book like this, I come away wondering if the author wasn't just fooling us into thinking he was being deep and philosophic. I tend to think it's just that - a gag. What is to be gotten from this book isn't in what one can convolute its prose into meaning. The real message in the
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story is on the surface.

The people in it were perverse, sad and pointless overall. I mean take the Mints. For time out of mind they've been protecting the secret of the turmulus and their dead could-be-ancestor within. Why? Even they don't know. No adequate explanation is given. Fertility rights? Ancestor worship? A perverse need to be underground? The need we all seem to have to keep secrets and be part of some mysterious society. Who knows?

The women, on the whole I found believable. Martha was a "wicked evil-minded b*tch" to quote PD James. Always putting her best face forward wile telling people to f*ck off in her thoughts. Evangeline - what a fruitcake! She was sharper than she let on, but not as sharp as she would like people to believe. Her personality varied from one person to another just enough to let you know that it was completely contrived. Her willful blindness to her "Baby Doll's" real personality was laughable, and in the end Hermione let her know it. Tying her up and gagging her, no wonder Evangeline thought it was a joke.

The Clares were the weirdest of all. I didn't see Katharine's suicide coming. I thought she might have been the one at the site causing all the trouble. I saw it as a possible effort to get Mark back home with her. The jealousy of the cripple. "There is always someone left behind on the shore" after all. She seemed so wrapped up in him for her identity, that in retrospect, it really wasn't surprising that she flung herself off Swithin's Column.

Mark seemed to have his heads in the clouds too much to be a professional. He seemed to have no gravity at all toward his work. It was all a game of hide and seek to him. He had to be the one to discover everything. Not just discover it, but almost to become it. Feel it. Experience it. He had to put his hands in the dirt, the walls, the floor, the coffin - everywhere. And then his almost non-reaction to his wife's death. He expected to find her again after he lost her. Well that part lost me. You're dead and that's it. I don't feel as though anyone sees anyone else after all of the lights go out.

The two astronomers were only marginally interesting. Damien was going through the old man blues. "What have I done with my life? Nothing. What did I want to do? Everything. SOS. I think 90% of males in this society have a similar panic attack late in life. This guy though, he just took it to extreme. Very maudlin of it all. Alexander wasn't much help to him either - except to remind him of what he once was; a blind young man knowing he could change the world if he could only see the stars. In the end he became more like his treasure star than he realized until the end. Alderbaran. The old barren one. Bloody typical.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
I truly wanted to like this book but for me, the people got in the way of what I thought could be a good story. Lots of others really loved it, so it must be me.

At the beginning of this story, a forest fire has revealed a ring of stones along Stonehenge lines and what is possibly a burial mound
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tumulus in the countryside in England. An archaeological dig is being readied to find out what is inside the mound. The people involved with the dig are really strange as are the people who live in the nearby village. As the archaeologists begin excavating, strange things start to happen. For example, the astronomer, Damian Fall, starts to hear things and flips out, and is literally waiting for the sky to come crashing down on him. The villagers have a strange meeting where they discuss what to do with "it." The archaeologists start hearing and feeling things as they continue to advance into the tumulus. Where it goes from there I won't say.

Overall, my personal feeling is that this could have been much better. I love the idea of (and believe in) all things in the cosmos being related and forging bonds between present, past and future and between earth and the rest of the universe. Also, I think that what the author was trying to get to was how science begins with mythology, and ultimately rises out of mythology ... and uses the burial mound to explore this idea as well as our connection to the universe & the passage of time. But I couldn't help this book, the characters just sort of take over and are so strange and bizarre that they override whatever it was Ackroyd was trying to do. If they weren't so ridiculous, I might have enjoyed this one more.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
Mr ackroyd has covered a great deal of metaphysical ground in this novel. we see a patch of ground from two vantage points, an old tomb being excavated and an astronomical observatory. We contemplate the immensity of the past and the hugeness of the interstellar spaces. Between them, two couples
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try to construct usable lives. There's something about PA's clear prose than seem to open vistas like that. A fine, dreamy reading experience.
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LibraryThing member dir21
This is an atrocious book in every respect. Ackroyd is an atrocious author. If you've read a few old Michael Moorcock novels, which generally pre-date this by about twenty years, then none of the `fascinating, original and inventive explorations of time' that all the critics claim to detect in
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Ackroyd's work appear to be fascinating, original, or inventive. The characters are lifeless and implausible. The exposition of archaeological practice is cretinous. The plot would have been rejected by H.P. Lovecraft as simply too naff. A colossal waste of time. I still resent having paid for it, but it has to be read so that you can describe its dreadfulness to the witless fops who publicly worship the author.
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LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
First Light is a novel, heavy-handed at times but always interesting, about how we in the present connect to our past.

Archaeologists have discovered a tumulus, hidden away in a remote forest that has since burned down, and they *need* to know what's inside. Why do they need to know? Why do any of
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us feel a draw to history, to our ancestry and what may have constituted the 'beginning'? Death is this looming, unknowable infinity, that nobody can understand but nobody can escape. And yet humankind has this curious draw toward it, in ways which define and illuminate our present. The tumulus is not the 'plot' of First Light, but the catalyst in which all of the characters surrounding it contemplate mortality and history
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LibraryThing member BornAnalog
Not Akroyd's finest hour. A thoughtful and provocative story about the nature of time and the way its inscrutability is approached, from different directions, by archaeology and astrophysics, is burdened with a number of extremely annoying and often unnecessary characters. The tone is also wildly
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inconsistent, veering from philosophical meditation, to comedy, to tragedy, to farce, to historical explanation, to technological description. . . This in itself isn't necessary a problem; the idea of "unity of effect" when it comes to things like tone is a relatively recent literary idea and very specific to the Western critical tradition. But in this case the tonal shifts are directly related to the fact that Ackroyd seems very confused about the kind of book he wanted to write and the overall goal of the book.

Some of the characters and their interactions definitely haven't aged well. The "flirtatious" behavior of Alec and Becky, for example, looks not a little misogynist and creepy now. And the "flaming queen" stereotype of Augustine just feels downright offensive now in its one dimensionality. It is however an interesting example of what a writer who is himself queer felt obligated to do in representing a gay character back in the 80s.

Ackroyd is a huge Dickens fan--the subject of one of his many biographies and this novel feels like someone who is trying out Dickensian characterization techniques. Dickens often gives his characters one or two interesting verbal tics that help a reader both visualize and remember the character, and Ackroyd does the same. But whereas Dickens used these traits judiciously, Ackroyd deploys them obsessively. The fact that Evangeline's speech consists almost entirely of saying the diametical opposite of what she actually thinks is funny the first few dozen times, but then it begins to grate. Martha's passive aggressive style is again used to beat the reader over the head. Floey's tendency toward malapropisms begins to wear a little thin after the hundredth time. You get the picture. The biggest problem is that the super-annoying characters are entirely unnecessary. If you cut them out of the book completely, nothing materially would change; they have virtually no impact on any of the substantive events or character shifts in the book.

At the heart of the book are two tragedies (and this also is a problem; the stories of Damian and Marc never quite mesh, and it feels as if the novel should have focused on one or the other; maybe if the annoying clutter characters had been excised there would have been room to develop more of a relationship between the two men, and between those men and the surrounding community which is the most interesting element of the book). But these are undermined by the cheap Wodehouse types that keep popping up to block the view
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