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Night of Fire

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  270 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Award-winning, bestselling novelist and travel writer Colin Thubron returns to fiction with his first novel in more than a decade, a searing, poetic masterwork of memory.

A house is burning, threatening the existence of its six tenants—including a failed priest; a naturalist; a neurosurgeon; an invalid dreaming of his anxious boyhood; and their landlord, whose relationship
ebook, 384 pages
Published January 17th 2017 by Harper (first published August 16th 2016)
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3.45  · 
Rating details
 ·  270 ratings  ·  60 reviews

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Angela M
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars rounded up .

This was an odd book, haunting really, a little eerie as each story unfolds and we learn about the characters pasts and their fate on this night when the building they live in is aflame. The landlord and the tenants each have a story, seemingly at first only connected by the fact that they live in this building that's on fire. I kept thinking there has to be more of a connection and the similarities of their names and their common address and variations of the same brother'
Ron Charles
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Everybody lives differently in Colin Thubron’s new novel, but they all burn to death in the same way. “Night of Fire” is a collection of stories about the tenants in an old apartment building that’s consumed one evening while they sleep. Older or younger, loved or lonely, each of the victims initially ignores the pungent odor, awakens into smoldering confusion and then succumbs.

In that grim sense, “Night of Fire” may be the hottest novel of the year, but the real heat is generated by Thubron’s g
Dec 12, 2016 rated it liked it
I think this rubbed me the wrong way. I enjoyed some of the individual character arcs, but I was somewhat mystified as to any purpose behind the whole. It seemed like pretty pictures of a clever idea, distant and puffed. I couldn't seem to get close to the book as a whole and wondered about the bigger reason for reading that was never quite graspable to me.
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
This was a philosophically dense book, but I really enjoyed it.

Set in a burning Victorian house, the author grapples with the impermanence of memory, loss, interconnectedness, and identity. As each character senses the encroaching fire their subplots flash back to prior meaningful experiences in their lives.

Don't want to spoil anything, but the ending left me wondering. Not because there were loose ends, but because it opened the door for bigger spiritual questions.

Stylistically the book had a
I have never read anything so tediously enjoyable before. It's rewarding for the reader who pays attention to detail, but also tedious because it is a loosely-woven tapestry that is revealed slowly.

I received a free advance copy of this book with my Powell's Indiespensable subscription in late 2016. I'm glad that I waited to read it because I am not sure I would have made it through. Even now, I almost gave up several times in the first 50 pages, but I fortunately had a long February weekend to
James Murphy
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On the roof of a house in London an amateur astronomer, and the landlord of those living in the flats below, watches the night sky. He reflects that what he sees through his telescope is not only fire but also the past, the light having taken uncountable years to reach him. Down below his tenants--priest, neurosurgeon, naturalist, photographer, schoolboy, and traveler--sleep. Each of them has a chapter in the novel which follows, their stories heavily weighted with memory and the past light whic ...more
Matt Sadorf
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received this book from Powell's Books when I began a subscription service there so I could get an autographed copy of Moonglow by Michael Chabon. I immediately read the back of it and thought it sounded very interesting and happily added it to the To Read Pile.

When I got to it, I found myself liking it, much as I thought I would, but then I realized that I enjoyed it more and more as I proceeded through the pages.

An apartment house is home for a handful of people, all from various aspects of
Greg Schott
Feb 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have to agree with the others that have reviewed this book that I was confused as to where it was going when I first started reading it, but by the time you finish the neurosurgeon chapter things start to fall into place.

This novel functions so well on many different levels. I was really amazed by the interconnected relationships - some obvious and others very subtle. You have to keep track of all the characters which is a little challenging but really makes the book that much better.

It also
Jan 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc
I have very mixed feelings about this book. I am still confused about what was really going on in it. I think understand, but I wish someone else I know would read it so I could talk to them about it. I really enjoyed the way this books was written and I think Colin Thubron did a great job getting the readers into the characters lives and psyches. I think the ending could have made things clearer for the reader but if what I think happened happened it is a very clever book - I'm just not sure - ...more
May 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-literary
Colin Thubron is a well-known travel writer and recipient of several awards for his novels. Night of Fire (2017) is a beautiful book, scholarly without being dull (where else can you learn about neurosurgery, butterflies, and other arcana), captivating in its language, and with a vividly described and uniquely constructed theme. More rewards will certainly come Thubron’s way.

The theme of the book is memory—its mysterious formation, its fragile construction, and its ephemeral quality. Each of us
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
A novel about a fire engulfing an apartment house, with a bunch of residents trapped inside. The book is structured like a series of short stories where each of the trapped residents' lives flash before their eyes, and you learn all about them and their pasts.

This is a cerebral, literary book for someone smarter than me. It almost reminded me of Cloud Atlas in that there are 6 or so different stories about different people, and yet, they are all... somehow... intertwined. The "somehow" is the pa
David Lutes
Mar 06, 2018 rated it liked it
It's really a collection of short stories with a clumsy conceit trying to tie them together. Conceit bad, stories good.
Andrew Field
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved almost every aspect of this book, and was surprised, because I had never heard of Thubron, so wasn't sure exactly what I was getting into. I had read a glowing review of the book in the New York Review of Books, so decided to give it a try. And I am so happy I did. The book was just beautifully written, wonderfully compelling, and at times, profound and philosophical and even sublime. It centers around a house fire that kills each of the house's inhabitants (this sounds macabre, but the ...more
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Maybe 3.5? There was much I liked in here, enough so that I finished it even as my appreciation began to recede. Thematically, it's a big, dense, meaning-heavy book, but there are authorial machinations that distract from that, including having several characters have the same name and having some POV changes from third to first that are jarring and not really necessary.
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Night of Fire by Colin Thubron is a recommended story of seven lives.

The old Victorian house that was divided into apartments years ago is on fire. Night of Fire delves into the lives of the tenants who will be dying in the fire on this night. The inhabitants whose life stories are told include a failed priest, a neurosurgeon, a naturalist, a photographer, a school boy, a traveller, and the landlord. The landlord has two chapters, one at the beginning and the end. The rest of the victims and the
Barbara Q
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is actually a series of portraits / reminiscences of seven people. They are all tenants in a rooming house when catastrophe strikes. A few thin threads run through some of the stories but each stands on its own. Good writing from a well known author.
Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars (I'm in a generous mood, so I'm saying 4 for the rating)

"Night of Fire," as the title implies, takes place the night of a fire. An apartment building has set fire, and each chapter focuses on a different resident of the building. The chapters begin in the present--what they are doing, thinking, etc., when the fire hits--and then explores some pivotal memories of theirs. There is almost a "Life flashing before your eyes before you die" feel, although rather than a full trajectory, a key
Apr 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
I've found myself in a cycle where I have found myself reading award winning and best of books and finding myself let down. This book was another. Did I like it? Was it enjoyable? Would I recommend it? I don't know the answers to any of those questions.

This book is the seven intermingled stories of seven people living in a old house that has been subdivided into apartments. The house has caught fire and each chapter is the story of the tenant first noticing the fire and ends with the tenant suc
Dan Claffey
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is an advanced reader's copy that I received through Powell's Indiespensable program.
I have mixed feelings about this book. Essentially a collection of short stories about characters that share no connection other than the fact that they all live in the same apartment building that is burning and they will all die inside of. While the stories themselves were OK, the lack of continuity really prevents this from being a great book.
Of course I may have simply missed the connection and someon
Anne Goodwin
Dec 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I changed my mind about this novel several times in the course of my reading and ended up profoundly impressed.
Full review
Alyssia Cooke
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: weird, contemporary
This novel is a victim of style over substance. It’s certainly an intriguing premise but the seven individual stories are completely unrelated and have absolutely no purpose. Some of the themes randomly carry over but these are jarring rather than effective; when no pertinent details pass over, for specific themes like memory and the loss thereof to pass through just struck me as odd.

Admittedly, some of the different tales are quite interesting but it reads more like a collection of short storie
Glen U
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Night of Fire" was another book that is very hard to review. In looking at prior readers ratings about this book, they range from two stars to five stars. The writing itself is exquisite. Colin Thubron is an amazing talent, bringing his characters to full fruition, his scenes and situations are totally enveloping, his prose is beautiful and will satisfy the literary needs of any reader. His mapping of the plotline is subtle and clever, for most of the book, and I think that is where the problem ...more
Chanaka Hettige
Seemingly disconnected set of lives connected through the point of death. Night of Fire is about the lives of six characters, who end up in a burning house, which is their current and final residence. The author succeeds in capturing the essence of the lives of a priest, neurosurgeon, photographer, schoolboy and a traveller. The critical points in their lives, which may have defined their whole state of being or the ones which defined the essence of them. This made the book an intriguing read, e ...more
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
this is another of the books that i found while browsing the NYT sunday book review. it is the story of 6 people (a failed priest, neurosurgeon, photographer, retired teacher who travels the world, a naturalist obsessed with butterflies, the landlord who nightly searches the sky with a high powered telescope) who are tenants in an apartment house in an unnamed city. they have little interaction and know very little about each other but they all will die on the "night of fire". their stories are ...more
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A superb, intelligent, erudite book. Wonderfully written and his insights into the six tenants in the house are fascinating. All the tenants die in a fire. We know that from the outset.
Most of all I loved the neurosurgeon and his observations on the brain and how his operations changes his patients including an observation that had he taken a millimetre less from the hippocampus of a patient she may not have lost her love for her partner, observing, post op. when reading his love letters, 'how s
Elizabeth Santana
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it
I confess that I am writing this review as a reader just getting into more literary books, so take that as you will. I found the stories engaging and the characters interesting, especially the priest and the naturalist. The prose was beautiful and had a lyrical quality that I enjoyed. The stories are intertwined together in a way that I noticed but was not able to decipher. Maybe this was due to my lack of familiarity with symbolism. At times I found the narrative forced and felt the author was ...more
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Beautiful writing that conjured up such vivid pictures in my mind. I initially viewed it as a series on separate stories, but gradually threads connecting them became apparent - e.g. names, butterflies, slanted eyes. I most liked The Naturalist, with its lovely descriptions of butterflies and nature and what an ending, and Neurosurgeon stories. I missed some of the elements mentioned in a Guardian review of the book but I felt it did all come together in the end and was so gla ...more
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it has been many years snce i read the bridges of san lui rey (sp ?) but this certainly seems structurally and thematically similar. thubron tells a ( several) quite fascinating and well told stories, but the pathways of life all lead to the same end. i enjoyed reading it however.
in an era that has seen faulkner and marilyn robinson and rushdee and naipul and arundhat roy, i fear this becomes just another well written entertainment.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rudy Seifert
May 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
Colin Thubron is high on my list of authors, which is why this book is so disappointing. Clearly modeled, in format any way, on Thornton Wilder's "Bridge of San Louis Rey" from 1928, it is a series of sad short stories, loosely tied together by an unlikely burning building scenario. Mr. Thubron has done much better.
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Colin Thubron, CBE FRSL is a Man Booker nominated British travel writer and novelist.

In 2008, The Times ranked him 45th on their list of the 50 greatest postwar British writers. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times, The Times Literary Supplement and The New York Times. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Thubron was appointed a CBE in the 2007
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“I had a heady dream of loving her, as if she were an actress on a stage of my own making; and as the night wore on, my imaginings wandered into make-believe, and died beyond the tent of the mosquito net, where Vincent was snoring, and the African stars were shining in through our lone window, and nothing was quite real.” 0 likes
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