Shiterature vol.2 – ‘The Light We Lost’ by Jill Santopolo


Howdy. Have a palette de-cleanser: prep for a head-first plunge into some truly excruciating excrement.

Brief plot background: Lucy is a wildly successful TV producer for children’s television. The love of her life is a wildly successful photo-journalist reporting from the Middle East. But his work took him away, so she’s married to a wildly successful investment banker instead. Here she is, holidaying on a luxury beach with a glass of Chardonnay in hand:

Exhibit A. ‘The man across from me was holding a copy of the New York Times. The article facing me said: More bodies pulled from hotel rubble in Pakistan. My mind went straight to you.’

Exhibit B.  (later, when Lucy visits war-torn Israel) ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before. The women, the children. I just keep thinking about you.’ 

Here is The Light We Lost in microcosm, ladies and gents. A novel unafraid and unabashed in its use of real-life massacre, disaster and terrorist attacks in vain search for emotional weight. Its two main characters care little for the innocent dead or suffering of those left alive: as long as their own conscience is satiated. The book is a head-in-the-clouds romance, relayed in unstintingly simple sentences, that uses national tragedies from across the globe as window dressing for one of the most stereotypical love stories committed to print this year.

The Meat

The main conceit is fairly sickening – deep breath. Lucy and her star-cross’d lover meet in New York, on 9/11. As their classmates rush to help those in the towers (giving blood, aiding firemen), they sneak off to a rooftop for a better view of the atrocious skyline-spectacle. And I Shit You Not – proceed to make-out in front of it. This is supposed to be romantic, and not a sign of pathological non-empathy.

A few pages later, and Santopolo treads dangerously close to terrorist attack erotica, when the couple recap their emotional rollercoaster of a day. They conclude that their kissing ‘felt completely right and absolutely wrong at the same time’ – a stone’s throw away from the taboo touchstone ‘it felt so wrong, but so right.’ Pretty shameless.

From now on, the image of 9/11 is wheeled out like a putrid pantomime horse –Santopolo expecting us to wipe away a tear each time and say ‘yes, how sad’ – whenever the plot demands it. Or even when it doesn’t. But it is paramount we remember 9/11, because of its importance to this couple’s relationship. See, they wouldn’t have forged such an instant connection without the steamy aura of collective trauma!

 ‘Thank you for making this day about something more.’
— Lucy on 9/11

Isn’t that just hunky-dory, ho!-what-a-wonderful-world spectacular.

Now, her bae is deeply affected by this harrowing experience. He goes by the name of Gabriel Samson, by the way, a name so Biblical it unites the Old and New Testaments. His flowing gold locks and photographer’s eye-for-Beauty are sure to hit the Bible Belt right in the ovaries with a Hemsworth-ian Thor Hammer.

Gabe proceeds to dive into mainstream-news’ most covered conflicts, in helpfully non-descript and mysterious fashion. This saves us having Santopolo ever explain, or begin to acknowledge, why these atrocities and conflicts are happening. Also, conveniently, we never have to hear the story specifics of the thousands dead, the millions effected, or the multitudes still at risk.

Instead, thankfully, we get to hear about Lucy. About her agonising over which outfits to wear. You’d think we were her personal fashion consultant given the amount of detail she provides. It’s important we know, for example, that accompanying her main Halloween outfit, she sports ‘silver ballet flats’ – oh, and she also ‘match[es] the lipstick to the fabric marker, so it was bright red.’ Thank God we have these humanising details to make her feel like a real person.

Because we don’t get them from her superlative stereotyping of all close relationships. Her eventual husband proposes to her in Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower no less. There’s a scene where she tries on shit-tons of dresses in Bloomingdales while Gabe watches on, embodying the Hollywood montage reaction-man like he was born to do. You can just picture him now, incessantly twanging his curled bangs away from his eyes like porcine-paralleled corkscrew cocks.

In ignoring the heart of its namechecked conflicts, The Light We Lost opts instead to explore the personal tragedies of the privileged. A lot of these centre around ‘dreams’ and their perpetual non-fulfilment. So what follows is a struggle of two people finding it hard to be requisitely selfish and still make a relationship work. They console each other, that it’s alright to be self-obsessed: ‘You work harder than anyone,’ Lucy reassures Gabe. Though perhaps not harder than the firefighters you supposedly mourn, or the soldiers who you photograph for platitudinal, developed-world, exhibitory reasons.

The central question here becomes – can you have everything? Can we get a bigger house? Can I carry out an affair and still reap the financial rewards of my husband, the least testosterone-fuelled investment banker on the face of the planet? Can I visit every cool Manhattan haunt with my high-flying friends? Can I namecheck Laura Ashley, Bloomingdales and Manolo Blahniks for doubtlessly lucrative endorsements (maybe a novelist’s prerogative sneaking in there)? Can I expunge my creeping sense of guilt with surface-deep observations on global tragedies? Can I pass on these toxic foibles to another generation of sheltered, white, privileged pseudo-philanthropists? Most importantly – can I leech more happiness from luxury? More happiness? Please? Oh, please, just let me get happier!


What You Should Be Reading

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

For an actual investigation into collective trauma, and its coagulation around that most photographed of international incidents, try DeLillo’s short and comparably sweet novella. It’s not his best work, but does a good job of haunting the immediate period post-plane crash with the authorial sensitivity of Dickens’ ghost. Here is what heartfelt retrospective should look like: shaped around human characters, drawn from real experience and extensive research.

You can read a section here.

Named and Shamed

Praise from today’s so-called ‘critics’

‘A heart-wrenching love story… impossible for the reader to put the damned book down!’ Irish Independent

‘An epic love story.’ Prima Magazine

‘Your new tearjerker has arrived: Fans of Me Before You and One Day will love/weep over this elegant novel.’ New York Post