Summary and book reviews of Night of Fire by Colin Thubron

Night of Fire

by Colin Thubron

Night of Fire by Colin Thubron X
Night of Fire by Colin Thubron
  • Critics' Opinion:

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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2018, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Zoë Fairtlough
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About this Book

Book Summary

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 to the tenants is both intimate and shadowy. At times, he shares their preoccupations and memories. He will also share their fate.

In Night of Fire, the passions and obsessions in a dying house loom and shift, from those of the hallucinating drug addict in the basement to the landlord training his rooftop telescope on the night skies. As the novel progresses, the tenants' diverse stories take us through an African refugee camp, Greek Orthodox monasteries, and the cremation grounds of India. Haunting the edges of their lives are memories. Will these remembrances be consumed forever by the flames? Or can they survive in some form?

Night of Fire is Colin Thubron's fictive masterpiece: a novel of exquisite beauty, philosophical depth, and lingering mystery that is a brilliant meditation on life itself.

1
Landlord

It began with a spark, an electrical break like the first murmur of a weakening heart that would soon unhinge the body, until its conflagration at last consumed the whole building. Years ago, at the end of the Victorian century, the house had been built in dignified isolation, but later developers split its storeys into separate flats, and the once-grand staircases now ascended past empty landings and closed doors. It was slipping into stately old age. Its balconies sagged behind their wrought-iron balustrades, and chunks of stucco pediment were dropping off on to the dustbins fifty feet below. The garden behind, which had once been the landlord's pride, lay half forgotten, and its shrubs – photinia, daphne, rosemary – burgeoned unclipped over the lawn.

Somewhere in the bowels of the building, behind a damp wall, a kink in a carbonised wire had become a tiny furnace. Down this half-blocked artery it travelled to a worn Bakelite socket, and the tenant asleep in ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Memories, like butterflies, flutter throughout the pages, constantly reminding us of the brevity and ephemeral nature of our existence. Live your life. Love those around you. Be kind. This seems to be what Thubron is saying. He does so in a manner so elegant and poetic that if I could just read one book this year, I would absolutely pick this one...continued

Full Review (718 words).

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(Reviewed by Zoë Fairtlough).

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
The novel displays the sensitive curiosity about other lives, and keen observation of how people differ, that distinguishes his travel writing…complex and skillful, yet transparent, without trickery.

The Sunday TImes (UK)
He combines curiosity with erudition, and stylishness with gravitas… The novel slowly builds into a haunting study of memory, identity and loss… His calm, contemplative tone and his mastery of imagery are on full display here.

The Times (UK)
In his first novel for 14 years, Thubron returns with what might be his masterpiece…Thubron's prose shines a penetrating light on the nature of memory and being human. Sublime.

The Spectator (UK)
[Thubron's] novels and classic travelogues do not seem to spring from disparate parts of the imagination, but rather enjoy a symbiotic relationship that, as he matures, results in increasingly fascinating work…This outstanding novel confirms that there is nowhere Thubron fears to tread.

The Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Thubron pushes gently at great mysteries…the idea of a catastrophe at the centre of a web of lives recalls Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey; the occult connections between characters across time feels closer to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. But this intensely moving book is its own creature, and Thubron is sure-footed amid its profundities.

Radio Times (UK)
A compelling, lyrical tale of how a single spark unravels seven entwined lives.

The Daily Mail (UK)
Gradually the stories interweave in a way that is both mysterious and mystical, until in the end we are left in a kind of dream world… Veteran travel author and novelist Colin Thubron has produced an engrossing, unsettling and brutally beautiful masterpiece.

Publishers Weekly
A Victorian house somewhere near the sea, ruined over time, is burning down. Chapter by chapter, room by smoky room, Thubron's remarkable novel journeys into the lives of the house's six occupants, mining their pasts and the places they've traveled for answers to questions that have plagued mankind since Socrates.

Booklist
Starred Review. As a master travel writer, Thubron (To a Mountain in Tibet, 2011) is remarkable for his supple, nuanced prose and concentration on individual personalities as well as place. This evocative and philosophical novel reminds us that such qualities make for powerful fiction as well.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Thubron isn't subtle in his themes or structure, but he intrigues with his many resonances and takes the reader on a journey through life's essential questions.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Breathtaking Butterflies

Night of Fire frequently references butterflies, often ethereal, almost infinite in variation, and miraculous in their metamorphosis: "...the butterfly's resurrection was different: the winged angel risen from a worm...It showed that anything could become anything." It's as though Thubron wants to remind us time and again that we can change, we don't have to be worms.

The word butterfly literally means a fly that's attracted to butter. A German name, "milchdieb," means milk-thief. In places where ancient farming methods are still practiced, it's not uncommon to find butterflies hovering over buttermilk left to settle.

Here are but five of the many butterfly species that appear in the book:

Glasswing butterfly Glasswings (Greta oto) are ethereal ...

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