The Lightness by Emily Temple
Published by William Morrow, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Set largely across one balmy summer, The Lightness follows Olivia as she enrols herself in a program for troubled girls at a meditation retreat high in the mountains. With her father having attended the same retreat just before he disappeared, Olivia hopes understanding his Buddhist passions will help her feel closer to him – and perhaps even to figure out why he never returned home. Quickly befriending a small group of enigmatic outcasts, the girls become increasingly obsessed with proving true the rumour that it’s possible to levitate, taking you one step closer to true enlightenment.
This is one of those books that I don’t want to say much about, because despite a few quietly powerful revelations along the way, not a huge amount actually happens. Instead, the success of the novel is reliant on the brilliant execution of its atmosphere; one of disorientating adolescence and mounting, claustrophobic tension that swell towards an inevitable though no less thrilling climax.
The novel is told in first person, with an older Olivia recalling the summer in question. This is effective on a number of fronts, allowing for a more mature narrative voice, greater self-reflection, and an omniscience that permits the laying out of clues that lend the whole thing a sense of impending doom – keeping us hooked despite the relatively slow progression of events.
There are lots of fascinating themes at play, from the trappings of the female body, to the often fine line between love and rivalry in friendship. As secrets are revealed, the reasons why the girls may wish to escape the physical confines of their bodies become tragically apparent, with subtle plays for power revealing the hidden manipulations and selfish motivations that can drive us to betray our own.
Though the ending is a little heavy on exposition, The Lightness is a tense and hypnotic read throughout. At once melancholic and strangely hopeful, it explores the allure of faith, and the desperate measures some of us will take to find purpose and belonging.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
You can pick up a copy of The Lightness by clicking here.