The Blind Light by Stuart Evers: A tale of two families and a country

Cover image for The Blind Light by Stuart Evers Regular visitors may have noticed that I’m much more of a novella than a chunkster kind of reader, favouring concision over what so often turns into waffle, but I was attracted to Stuart Evers’ The Blind Light by its premise despite its 540+ pages. Spanning six decades, Evers’ novel tells the story of post-war Britain through two families, both from opposite ends of the social spectrum, beginning with the friendship between Drummond and Carter formed during their National Service training in 1959.

Drum and Carter are polar opposites: Drum, a union man, quiet and proud of his job at Ford’s Dagenham factory while the extrovert, privileged Carter has been sent down from Oxford. When Drum tips Carter the wink at a card school where he’s spied a cheat, he saves Carter’s bacon and makes a friend for life. Carter uses his connections to land them positions in the catering corps, sparing them the dangers of Britain’s various conflicts although their derring-do stories become a double act, popular with awestruck new recruits. They’re stationed in Cumbria, the site of a ‘doom town’ set up to simulate the aftermath of a nuclear strike. By the time their National Service is over Drum is engaged to Gwen and Carter to Daphne, despite his constant philandering.

Each returns to their very different lives but their friendship continues. Children are born, crises are weathered. Drum becomes a member of the Civil Defence, his life led on constant alert for the catastrophe he’s sure will happen. When the privacy of Carter’s palatial family home comes under threat from property development, he turns to Drum, struggling with the privations of a round of strikes, solving both their problems by engineering the purchase of the neighbouring farm. As their children grow up alongside each other – Drum’s children testing his strict limits, Carter’s enjoying their family’s privilege – an uneasy friendship grows between Gwen and Daphne. The events of one dramatic night in 1980 stretch the bonds between these two families to breaking point, the repercussions of which will come home to roost when the novel ends in 2019.

When a novelist sets about telling a story spanning sixty years, I imagine it’s all too easy to turn it into a year-by-year narrative. Evers’ approach is much more effective, taking a series of crucial events which echo his theme around which he unfolds the two families’ stories, shifting perspectives between characters. I grew up during the Cold War when the possibility of a nuclear calamity felt very real. Evers depicts that constant background hum extraordinarily well. The theme of class and socioeconomic division is smartly explored through the enduring friendship between two men who would never have known each other had it not been for National Service. The result is a richly textured, immersive novel, full of convincing characters whose stories echo that of their changing country, and it has an immensely satisfying ending. Chunksters may not be my usual book of choice but when they’re of this calibre I’m more than happy to read them.

Picador: London 9781529030976 544 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)

10 thoughts on “The Blind Light by Stuart Evers: A tale of two families and a country”

    1. Loved it, Annabel. It’s so immersive and the Cold War aspect is dealt with particularly well. Not a theme I remember being addressed in fiction very often, surprisingly.

  1. This sounds excellent. I will be adding this to my list (I have recency bought several ebooks so I must excersise some control). I love the idea of following two families across such a lengthy period, the cold War period is particularly interesting I think.

    1. It is, Ali. Telling the country’s story through two very different families worked very well, particularly given the structure Evers’ chose. I had a much happier experience reading this one as an ebook than I did with the collection of short stories I reviewed recently.

  2. I added this to my TBR as soon as you mentioned it, in passing, on my post about long and hefty books to read when sheltering-in-place. It just sounds So Good.

  3. I like the sound of this too, particularly the combination of the personal and the political – that type of approach can be very effective, which certainly seems the case here. Plus, it’s definitely my kind of era…

    1. It was the Cold War theme that attracted me to this one, Jacqui. Rarely explored in fiction as far as I can recall. The two families from opposite ends of the social spectrum is a clever trope, too. Highly recommend it.

  4. Interesting that Drum works at the Ford Motor Plant, that immediately made me think of the two contrasting families in the film ‘Made in Dagenham’ though it was set in 1968 and equal pay for women the issue of that time. This sounds like a worthy contender for a summer chunkster read.

    1. I think the Dagenham plant was emblematic of ’70s UK industrial relations. I’d certainly recommend this one. The exploration of the effect of the Cold War on our psyche is very well done, a theme rarely explored.

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