Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book Review: A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle (1980)

My feelings about the last three Madeleine L'Engle books that I have read have ranged from lukewarm disinterest to all-out hatred, so I was almost nervous to pick up another one. Thankfully, though, A Ring of Endless Light, published in 1980, made me fall in love with L'Engle's writing all over again. Vicky Austin is almost sixteen, and she is struggling to make sense of death. A family friend, Commander Rodney, has died trying to save a drowing teen, and Vicky's own grandfather is dying of leukemia. Vicky also spends time with Zachary Grey, the troubled young man she first met in The Moon By Night, Adam Eddington, who works with her brother John at a marine biology research station, and Leo Rodney, whose feelings for Vicky are far more romantic than hers for him. As her grandfather's condition deteriorates, Vicky comes to terms with the idea of death and works to sort out her feelings for each of the young men who desire her affections.

Because I have such an affinity for realistic fiction, it comes as no surprise that my favorites among the L'Engle books I've read have been the ones about Vicky Austin and her family. My love for this particular book, though, extends beyond just a genre preference. There is plenty of science fiction in A Ring of Endless Light, including references to farandola, discussions of Adam's role in Dr. O'Keefe's regeneration research, and the discovery that people can communicate with dolphins telepathically. The difference between this book and A Swiftly Tilting Planet or A Wind in the Door is that I connect better with Vicky's emotions than with Meg's or Charles Wallace's. Meg and Charles Wallace always feel like characters, whereas Vicky sometimes feels like a real person who has the experiences of a real teen.

There were moments in this book where I felt it was necessary to suspend my disbelief a little bit. It seemed unlikely to me that several people connected to one family would die or come so near to death in such a short time. I also thought the way Zachary Grey was brought into the story was maybe a bit too coincidental, and I wondered if it was necessary to create a connection between him and Commander Rodney's death. Even so, the way these events are described, and the way they work together to further the plot, is exceptional. Whereas in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, I felt that L'Engle made all the connections between the characters too obvious, A Ring of Endless Light is written with more subtlety, and even if the events of the story are unlikely, the overall narrative is more believable.

I am nearly finished reading L'Engle's Murry/O'Keefe and Austin books. Next up is A House Like a Lotus, and after that, only Many Waters, An Acceptable Time, and Troubling A Star are left.  I'm hoping these last few books will be as enjoyable as A Ring of Endless Light, or at least not as dismal as A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

1 comment:

  1. I must admit, the only book by this author I read was A Wrinkle in Time as a kid-- and I hated it. It's probably one of the reasons I do not like science fiction as an adult.

    I've never heard of this book, so I would be interested in giving it a try. Maybe I might find a new favorite.