Beautiful prose and lovely to hold

ODT book reviewer and Dunedin scientist Cushla McKinney describes her best read of 2014: Lamplighter, by Kerry Donovan Brown (Victoria University Press).

This year I have had the privilege to review many excellent books, but Lamplighter was the indisputable highlight.

A coming-of-age fable set in the mythical town of Portbeagle, it tells the story of a young man called Candle, grandson of and apprentice to the town's lamplighter, Ignis.

When the decision is made to replace the gas lamps that keep the night-time and its terrors at bay to with electrical lighting, Candle is released from the obligation to follow in his grandfather's footsteps.

But it is a freedom that comes at a price.

In relinquishing the traditions that the lamplighter represents, the townsfolk must also abandon the stories with which they comfort themselves and recognise that the evil that lurks in the darkness comes not from without but within.

And for Candle, it means learning why Ignis will never accept him or his sexuality.

The first thing that distinguishes this novel is the beauty of both its prose and production.

Not only is the writing is full of sensual, haunting imagery that reminded me of Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter duet (as did the setting, which is both other-worldy and essentially familiar), the book itself is a physically lovely item.

Everything from the choice of font to the soft heaviness of the paper it is printed on make it a joy to hold and read, and it is just short enough that to be savoured in one, luxurious sitting.

It also marks the debut of a new and exciting voice to New Zealand's literary landscape; Lamplighter, the product of Donovan Brown's MA at Victoria University, deservedly won the Adams Creative Writing Prize in 2012.

If he can produce writing of this quality so early in his career I can't wait to see how he develops.

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