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Sixty Lights

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Sixty Lights is the captivating chronicle of Lucy Strange, an independent girl growing up in the Victorian world. From her childhood in Australia through to her adolescence in England and Bombay and finally to London, Lucy is fascinated by light and by the new photographic technology. Her perception of the world is passionate and moving, revealed in a series of frozen images captured in the camera of her mind's eye showing her feelings about love, life and loss. In this confident, finely woven and intricate novel Jones has created an unforgettable character in Lucy; visionary, gifted and exuberant, she touches the lives of all who know her.

300 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2004

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About the author

Gail Jones

23 books101 followers
Gail Jones is the author of two short-story collections, a critical monograph, and the novels BLACK MIRROR, SIXTY LIGHTS, DREAMS OF SPEAKING, SORRY and FIVE BELLS.

Three times shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, her prizes include the WA Premier's Award for Fiction, the Nita B. Kibble Award, the Steele Rudd Award, the Age Book of the Year Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Fiction and the ASAL Gold Medal. She has also been shortlisted for international awards, including the IMPAC and the Prix Femina.

Her fiction has been translated into nine languages. Gail has recently taken up a Professorship at UWS.

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5 stars
112 (21%)
4 stars
182 (34%)
3 stars
152 (28%)
2 stars
58 (10%)
1 star
25 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 85 reviews
Profile Image for Leah.
536 reviews68 followers
April 6, 2012
Gail Jones writes Literature. I think this is important to know. She writes very intimately of the inner feelings and thinkings of her characters and their driving passion.
There is very little dialogue, so when there is dialogue, it feels a little uncomfortable.

The preoccupation of this novel is photography, and seeing. The protagonist sees photographs everywhere, but she feels very deeply about light, and vision, and photography. I am not like this, and so I got lost every time a paragraph waxed lyrical about the intricacies of the play of light on a window, or the imperfections inherent in everyday life. It just made me wonder if anyone was really like that.

I am not sure the writing style is something I would choose to read again, to be honest, and it might just be because I was reading this sporadically during a busy and stressful time, so that my full attention was not on the book, and even when it was, only for short bursts at a time before I fell asleep.

I think it is a beautifully written book, but I wasn't drawn into the story enough to really like it; or rather, every time some story happened, it was interrupted with descriptions of scenes that appeared as photographs to Lucy.
Profile Image for Debbie Robson.
Author 12 books153 followers
June 4, 2016
The blurb says: “Sixty Lights is the captivating chronicle of Lucy Strange, an independent girl growing up in the Victorian world. From her childhood in Australia through to her adolescence in England and Bombay and finally to London, Lucy is fascinated by light and by the new photographic technology.”
So far so good. The blurb continues: “Her perception of the world is passionate and moving, revealed in a series of frozen images captured in the camera of her mind’s eye, showing her feelings about love, life and loss.”
I think generally we whiz through blurbs. Yep that sounds good. That’s what I’m looking for but what we don’t realise is, that sometimes quite a bit of this “snapshot” sinks in. For me it was the words “captured in the camera of her mind’s eye”. As a result of what unfolds in the first half of this beautifully written novel, mainly concerning Lucy’s parents, I became completely disorientated.
How can these images, particularly one image of her father rescuing her mother from an overturned coach, be truly captured in Lucy’s mind’s eye? Photography is, to state the obvious, such a visual thing. We can reconstruct an event in our mind but it is guesswork, not a captured image or something close to a photograph. And to make matters worse the events were presented as completely divorced from Lucy. They were her parents’ secret past.
I’m actually trying to explain to myself here why I put the book down for nearly two months. I picked it up again because of Gail Jones’ “luminous and accurate prose”. (From the blurb again) and I wholeheartedly agree. The prose is luminous, the research impeccable.
“Under the nocturnal shadow of the velvet drape, through the frame, and the lens, and the aperture, and the glass, that together directed her vision into this specialised seeing, Lucy discovered the machine that is a gift-boxed tribute to the eye. She looked as she never had, imagining a picture frame or a box that isolated the continous and unceasing flux of things into clear aesthetic units, into achieved moments of observation.”
Gradually from the time Lucy arrives in London with her Uncle Neville and her brother Thomas, Sixty Lights evolves into the story I thought I would be reading from the start. It finally becomes the world that Lucy Strange sees, with and without her camera.
September 6, 2019
The lyrical writing which I usually so enjoy in Gail Jones's works seemed precious here. The central character, Lucy Strange is orphaned as a child in Australia. She is carried off to Victorian England with her brother, Thomas, by their profligate and bibulous uncle, Neville. She is then naively seduced and impregnated by a mean cad of an Englishman aboard the ship to India, where she's being sent to marry her uncle's friend. Finally, she ends up a photographic artist and consumptive back in England again. Lucy is simply too insubstantial a vessel to carry the freight of the author's rarefied musings. She never seems like a person, but rather some sort of Jungian anima figure. While the setting that shifts from Australia, to England, to India, and back again to England is interesting, this is not my favourite work by Gail Jones. Not recommended.
Profile Image for Jabiz Raisdana.
339 reviews75 followers
August 20, 2015
I loved every word of this book. Definitely a book for readers not too much interested in a quick plot. Gail Jones weaves a beautiful novel that crosses generations and continents. This is a book for readers who love language and want to get lost in descriptions and poetry.

A wonderful, tragic and challenging text that will help readers adapt to more mature themes and styles of writing.

I never wanted this one to end. I will miss Lucy the most as she is a brilliant independent and powerful female character who controls her own destiny as best she can in Victorian times.
April 12, 2012
I literally stayed up all night reader this. A thoroughly wonderful excursion into magic realism. I felt that Gail Jones imitated perfectly the patter of a Victorian novel with the winding famillial trails followed, the orphaning of the characters and her detailed descriptions of the period while refusing to slip into cliche or Victorian sentimentality.
Profile Image for Lisa.
3,373 reviews428 followers
April 15, 2011
I'm sooooo tired of overwrought lyrical prose. This one is the utterly unbelievable story of Lucy, a C19th girl who dies in her early twenties of consumption. She sees life as a series of photographic images, tortured into forced images by Jones in the most ridiculous way.
Everybody dies. All the images are of melancholy and loss. Lucy's mother dies in childbirth; her father kills himself shortly afterwards. His neighbour is blind; the midwife has a purple birthmark. The uncle that adopts Lucy and her brother Thomas is a ne'er do well and he dies when Lucy is packed off to India as a bride to settle his debts.
(Are you still with me? It gets worse.)
The would-be groom is actually gay, and in love with Neville (the uncle). Although disappointed that Lucy (pregnant after a shipboard romance with a married man) isn't older and more 'worthy, he is sanguine about her behaviour and becomes a friend. He pays for her to take up photography when she goes back to England, and her brother Thomas (childless after his wife Violet's miscarriage) attaches the tripod to the baby's pram.
It's all so silly! Don't say you weren't warned.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Maree Kimberley.
Author 5 books25 followers
May 20, 2012
I wasn't sure about reading another Gail Jones novel so soon after Five Bells, which I found a bit disappointing. But Sixty Lights was fabulous.

This is a gorgeous novel filled with light and colour. It's sensual and exotic, taking you into Lucy's journey across three contintents and her love affair with the emerging technologly of photography. Human tragedy - death and despair - are viewed through a prism of light that makes this book vibrate with life on every page.

This is what I'd call an artist's book. It is visual in a way film could never be. Jones' descriptions of the essence of light and life shine on every page, and especially through Lucy's exuberance for love and living even as she nears death.

An absolutely beautiful book. Highly recommeded.
Profile Image for Ben Thurley.
449 reviews24 followers
November 25, 2020
I liked Sixty Lights' main character, Lucy Strange. Which is just as well, as we spend a lot of time in her company as she makes her way into a strangely cosmopolitan, Victorian adulthood, adrift on tides of fate along with her brother, Thomas. The pair are orphaned in Australia, adopted by an uncle in England, and Lucy is (kind of) betrothed in India before her final chapters are written in the consumptive dark of England once more.

Sadly, though, I didn't really love Jones' prose for most of the novel. At first I found it an enjoyable break from the workmanlike prose that characterises many contemporary novels. But, as it went on, I found the constant reaching for further similes or yet more synaesthetic description relating to light, or portentous musings on life occasioned by, for example, working in an albumen paper factory, just a little wearing. There's a bit of quasi-metafictional play sprinkled throughout the novel as the orphaned siblings read Dickens' Great Expectations, or as Lucy muses about being the romantic heroine in a Charlotte Brontë novel, but there's little of the sheer storytelling energy of either of these authors here.
Profile Image for Debra.
45 reviews14 followers
April 23, 2009
a wonderful read, Imaginative, poetic and translucent
writing, about an independent young woman, set in
Victorian times, and her interest in photography....
Profile Image for Alina.
7 reviews
September 22, 2012
Gentle on the eyes. Fell in love with strong and defiant Lucy
Profile Image for AM.
85 reviews4 followers
January 8, 2017
Beautiful historical fiction story. I enjoyed the connections from generation to generation. This is a great book for grade 8 and high school, there is some sexual content.
Profile Image for Kathy.
616 reviews25 followers
January 4, 2021
Not my usual read but my 17 year old son is reading it for his Year 12 English class. He thought I would like it because he is enjoying it. It is very lyrical and the storyline kept me interested to see how it all finishes up. It jumps around a bit especially at the beginning between timelines and characters but it is mainly about Lucy - her childhood in Australia then England and Bombay and finally to London. She is very passionate about light and newly discovered photographic technology.
An ok read - I will be interested to see what my son says they discuss about it and write essays about it etc......
Profile Image for George.
2,304 reviews
July 16, 2022
An interesting, engaging historical novel about Lucy Strange growing up in the 1860s in Australia, London and India. In Australia in 1860 Lucy and her elder brother, Thomas, lose both their parents within a couple of weeks and then, with their uncle Neville, travel to London. Lucy develops an interest in photography.

This book was shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin award.
Profile Image for Lilian.
95 reviews13 followers
March 30, 2019
more of a 3.8?

Read this for my creative writing class, the writing style was lovely and so beautiful. It felt so lyrical and I was so invested in the characters of this book especially Lucy, I adored her independence and power.
Profile Image for Lisa.
228 reviews6 followers
February 20, 2017
I read this while on holidays, so was reading in fits and starts which may have impacted on my overall impression of the book. I remember finding the narrative relatively engaging but nothing really stuck out in my mind, and now I can't even remember anything about it, so it must not have been that sensational. A quick easy read.
Profile Image for Tdlugosch.
8 reviews2 followers
June 11, 2011
I love reading Gail Jones: her prose startles me with insights. However, in skimming back over this novel, I found too little I could excerpt to illustrate her power or her reach. As a crafter of short pieces, she is on my list of greats; as a novelist, she leaves me wondering in this early piece (2004). Still, I can't wait to read more.Here is one very cool passage:

"Thomas pointed out that there were lovers shining mirrors at each other, one on the dock and one not far from them on the dock. It was the woman who was leaving. She tilted her oval mirror to catch at the sun and a young man, diminishing, answered from the shore. Lucy was transfixed. This was what she wanted, a photosensitive departure. Light trained by glass to locate and discover a face, a beam to travel on, a homing device, a sleek corridor through the infinity of sky itself."

Lucy becomes a mid-19th c. photographer, so you can see the metaphor developing. She keeps a journal of "things seen" to record "her profound sense of discrepancy in the world, discrepancy between the niggardly specificity of things, often tiny, inconsequential, mundane things--a face emerging scrubbed and reddened from an unwrapping towel--and the cloudy abstractions they brought in their wake...."

But too many restatements and new stabs at similes, not?
31 reviews12 followers
October 26, 2011
While I enjoyed reading this book, I didn't engage with the characters and the storyline much and felt that the author's style was sometimes a bit overly descriptive. But I did very much enjoy the following passage which is a wonderful description of how Lucy sees the continents of the world: "...there was corpulent Australia, removed and remote, there were the marine-looking archipelagoes of Southeast Asia (looking like coral, like sea cucumbers, like beaded strings of seaweed); there was the planchette of India, and the Arabian sea, and there, further on, was the proud body shape of Africa. Upwards - since her route was cursive, perverse and driven by mind-winds - lay lumpish Western Europe, studded with important names, the finicky jagged outlines of the United Kingdom, the feline swallowing shapes of Scandinavia. She zigzagged backwards to move over Russia and China, and settled somewhere in Japan, the site for any number of exotic dreams and conclusions, chose for the incomparable beauty of its shape. The entire continent of America did not figure on this journey; Lucy's globe placed the Arabian Sea at the centre, and regarded itineraries and destinations by the illogical attractions of shapes".
Profile Image for Aarushi Rath.
5 reviews
January 27, 2016
Sixty Lights was a book which I personally didn't enjoy. It lacked dialogue and the story was not well expressed. Although the ending was slightly more engaging, it still wasn't something I would recommend. Firstly, I did not think the book is appropriate for middle school students because of the amount of inappropriate scenes as it makes the reader feel really uncomfortable. Although the book did explore interesting concepts like light and loss, a lot of the sections in the book did put the reader in an awkward position. Lucy Strange was an interesting character and what I found in the book is that light would be her escape. Light helped her forget, yet still remember the loss she suffered throughout her life. Sixty Lights was a challenging text which contained interesting themes which you can explore and also had metaphors. And perhaps I'll enjoy it later in life, but right now, I would definitely not recommend this book.
5 reviews3 followers
January 27, 2016
Sixty Lights was a book that personally caused me problems in terms of trying to be interested or even caring about any of the characters. Sixty Lights is set in the 1860 in Australia/England/India and it shows the journey through life from Lucy Strange's perspective as an 8 year old child to a 22 year old woman. The book really frustrated me because I found no connections to any of the characters or the story as the writer seems to explain the world through a glass window. There were a lot of symbols and I think this would be a good book to look at if you were interested in craft and I think the writing style is very original. This was a 2.5 star book and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for a quick read.
13 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2016
I think that this book while meant to be a cultural challenge, wasn't. The story was very interesting however despite a slow beginning the story gradually improved. The craft of this story was amazing. The characters were very life-like, with the exception that Lucy's accurate predictions of the future seems a bit far-fetched. Overall a great book if you are looking for one with good craft.
Profile Image for Katharine.
9 reviews
September 9, 2008
I read this thanks to one of my photo students. I liked the warps in timeline. The descriptions of how the photographer visulized the world was uncanny and beautifully written. The story itself is kind of cheesy.
22 reviews
September 8, 2014
Although it took me a little time to get into the book (not that much...it's not that long a book), after I had I absolutely loved it. The travels that the main character goes through can be seen to symbolise different periods of personal development. Really enjoyed reading this.
Profile Image for Alyx.
119 reviews3 followers
February 11, 2019
I cannot deny that the prose of this book is well written. The sentences are elaborately constructed, and a lot of the descriptions are beautiful. Jones also manages to capture a difference in view between the characters when she occasionally switches perspective for one of the snapshots that constitutes a chapter. This, however, is where my praise for the novel ends.

The protagonist, Lucy, is wholly unlikeable in her perfection. As a child, she burns insects and objects with her magnifying glass, and then it is like a switch is flipped, and she becomes what the author seems to view as a paragon of humanity. Everyone who beholds her is entranced. She predicts future inventions whilst others scoff at her, and she spends time admiring Indian citizens during her time in India in a way that somehow enables her to understand them implicitly, and speak for them. In her perfection and ability to predict inventions, other things that would have made sense to include in terms of photographic history (such as the photos taken during the 1857 Indian Rebellion, an event mentioned in detail in the book) are ignored, almost to imply that she is the only one with any photographic skill. Also, the depictions of her daughter are just laughable. That baby is not human.

The greatest issue I have with the book is in its lack of hope. There is never a moment when you feel that Lucy is going to enjoy any happiness, and sure, you know from the opening of the novel that she is doomed to die young, but there are so many moments in between that she drifts through 'enclosed in a depressed patch of air', to quote the novel itself. There is no plot worth following, there is no real rise and fall in the action, there is just consistent trudging through the mire. There is some intrigue in the opening over the cause of her death, but this is wholly unwarranted as the story unfolds.

Ultimately, this novel left me depressed and frustrated.

1.5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Perry Middlemiss.
333 reviews4 followers
August 21, 2020
Lucy Strange, the protagonist in Gail Jones's novel Sixty Lights, lives a tragic life: born in Australia in the 1860s, along with her brother Thomas she is orphaned at eight when her mother dies in childbirth and her father suicides in grief a fortnight later, transported to England to live with her uncle whom she has never previously met, condemned to a work-house at 14 when her uncle is nearly bankrupted, shipped to India at around 18 to live with a man to whom her uncle owes money, pregnant before she arrives, and back in England a year later severely ill. All in all, not such a good time was had. Yet she is able to see the light in the situation and near the end of the novel she discovers a talent for photography that is a direct result of all she has experienced.

The title of the book gives a clue to the basic symbols utilised: all sixty chapters, in some way or other, refer to light or the way it is used. We have references to photography, glass beads, early slide projection, sunlight - both bright and dull, stars and the night, bioluminescence, and one of the characters is named Isaac Newton, who investigated the way light interacts with glass prisms. For a while I thought the symbols would get in the way but Jones handles them pretty well; they define the edges of Lucy's life without overly impinging on the plot.

Jones handles the changing times and locales with ease and her characters are filled out and real. All in all, this is damn fine novel.
472 reviews
November 21, 2016
'Sixty Lights' by Gail Jones is a study of a woman's life from her childhood to adulthood. It is set in the 1860s-80s in Australia, India, and London. As she grows up, the woman, Lucy, is fascinated by light and photography; everything she sees, she describes through a prism of light and shadow. While the story itself is straightforward and the reader is drawn to the various characters, the prose is anything but. It is all very artistic and literary. Just what are we meant to make of sentences such as 'The envelope of a breathing space from elsewhere and long ago'; 'They possessed a truly rare and solar refulgence'; 'A novelistic concatenation of events'. The word plays and pretentious imagery distracted me from the beautiful character study.
Profile Image for Sarah Baker.
33 reviews
May 18, 2018
An exceptionally beautiful book, an actual work of art. I love the way the author gives us little glimpses into the future and interjects with her own voice from time to time. Perhaps a writing style that is an acquired taste, but from a literary perspective it is absolutely standout writing. I'd suggest reading it in one or two sittings though, as this style of writing can confuse a reader if they lose track of the plot or are too distracted. I know I'll read it again and undoubtedly get more out of it each time.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 85 reviews

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