SEASON OF SHADOW AND LIGHT
Author: Jenn J McLeod
Simon & Schuster RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Season of Shadow and Light is another winning story of self-discovery, renewal and growth from Australian author Jenn J McLeod. Once again, her writing captures a distinctly Australian setting, but delivers a story that’s appealing no matter where you live. I read this a couple of months ago, after being asked to provide a quote for the advance readers’ copy – lucky I took some notes!
The story is one of secrets and lies – things kept in the shadows and brought out into the light. To outsiders, main character Paige leads a priviliged life in Sydney with her corporate husband and six-year-old daughter, Matilda. What most don’t know is that her life has been falling apart since her son was stillborn. Not only has she been robbed of her precious baby, but a post-partum stroke has robbed her of her sense of smell and taste, leaving her unable to carry out her job as a professional food reviewer. And now it looks like she’s losing her marriage as well. She leaves on a roadtrip with Matilda and Nana Alice, hoping to rediscover herself and her life … but stranded in the small town of Coolabah Tree Gully, she learns of far greater betrayals. Will she find healing for her body, mind and soul? And how will the trip affect Alice, who’s returning to a place that’s left a shadow on her own heart.
Here’s a teaser:
‘I’ve worked so hard since . . . since my illness to maintain some semblance of normality for me, and for us. I’m still young, Robert, still attractive and, like you, I ache for what we once shared. The difference is I don’t go out and get what we’re missing from somewhere or someone else, and I refuse to be put out to pasture like a lost cause because of the stroke. I’ve lost my sense of smell and taste, not my sense of right and wrong.’ (Paige)
Like McLeod’s previous novels, Season of Shadow and Light is a story of coming home and acceptance. It’s also about trust, love, forgiveness, friendship and family. The motifs of light, dark and shadows have significant symbolic value insofar as they underscore the themes of betrayal, secrets and truth. The names Ebony and Aurora, used late in the piece, are just one example – with ebony meaning darkness and aurora meaning dawn. I loved that symbolism, but I can’t explain that more without a spoiler. McLeod also uses these motifs to explore gay and lesbian relationships, so often hidden in the shadows for fear of what the light will do. This aspect is sensitively addressed, predominantly through the character of Alice, the one burdened with the heaviest of secrets, and it’s clear that the issue is one McLeod thinks needs more discussion, openness and love.
About love. That features in Season of Shadows and Light through a number of characters, with all its joys and challenges, and not just in the romantic sense, but it also plays a part for Paige, who’s evaluating her marriage and future for much of the novel. There’s an undercurrent of attraction between Paige and Aiden, who works as a chef and who Paige thinks might be gay, that adds another dimension (or complication) to the novel.
Finally, I’ll mention horses, which feature heavily in the book and are used somewhat as an analogy for freedom. As the character Sharni explains to Paige, horses don’t hold grudges, they live in the moment, “they don’t sit around banging on about how bad the situation is”. They feel, but they don’t “stay alert all night lamenting all the what ifs and why nots of life”. Some great advice there!
“Moving on becomes an adventure, something to enjoy rather than to resent.” (p163)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I’d highly recommend it for lovers of contemporary fiction. Jenn McLeod delivers her best yet!
Watch out for my interview with McLeod as part of the blog tour for Season of Shadow and Light. It’s online May 13. To check out the rest of the tour, see below:
Season of Shadow and Light is available from good bookstores. My ARC was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.