I know this review is a little earlier than it should be, but I really couldn’t go away on my holidays – and miss the 1st June publication date – without telling you just a little of my thoughts around At First Light, the wonderful new book by Vanessa Lafaye. No spoilers, I promise! I loved Summertime – but then so did everyone else, including Richard and Judy, and even my very demanding U3A book group. When I reviewed it (you can read that review again here) I mentioned the wonderful descriptions, the carefully chosen words, and the languorous quality of the writing, the way the detail was etched in my memory by a writer at the peak of her powers. I rather left myself with no more superlatives to use, but I’m going to need to find a few: I’m delighted to report that I think At First Light is even better.
1993, Key West, Florida. When a Ku Klux Klan official is shot in broad daylight, all eyes turn to the person holding the gun: a 96-year-old Cuban woman who will say nothing except to admit her guilt.
1919. Mixed-race Alicia Cortez arrives in Key West exiled in disgrace from her family in Havana. At the same time, damaged war hero John Morales returns home on the last US troop ship from Europe. As love draws them closer in this time of racial segregation, people are watching, including Dwayne Campbell, poised on the brink of manhood and struggling to do what’s right. And then the Ku Klux Klan comes to town…
Inspired by real events, At First Light weaves together a decades-old grievance and the consequences of a promise made as the sun rose on a dark day in American history.
I called Summertime “one hell of a story” – but this one is absolutely stunning. It’s a love story full of aching passion, a story of a remarkable woman who learns to be strong, of the rising tide of hatred as the Klan gain a grip, corrupt officialdom, naive enchantment… with a set of characters within both the past story and the current who grasp your heart and refuse to let go. The writing is just breath-taking in its assurance – perfectly rounded characters, a vividly detailed backdrop, a stirring of deep emotion quite perfectly handled. When I said “review”, maybe I overstated my intention – I’ll do this properly when I return from my holiday and have more time to do it justice. But I just wanted to tell everyone how much I loved this book – I always thought Vanessa Lafaye’s writing was something rather special, but this book really is something very special indeed.
My thanks to Vanessa, netgalley and publishers Orion for my advance reading copy.
About the author
Vanessa Lafaye was born in Tallahassee and raised in Tampa, Florida, where there were hurricanes most years. She first came to the UK in 1987 looking for adventure, and found it. After spells of living in Paris and Oxford, she now lives in Marlborough, Wiltshire, with her husband and three furry children. Vanessa leads the local community choir, and music and writing are big parts of her life.