Review: Breaking Light by Karin Altenberg
PUBLISHED: 14:53 26 May 2015 | UPDATED: 14:53 26 May 2015
Annette Shaw reviews Breaking Light by Karin Altenberg
Published by Quercus. Paperback £8.99
With Dartmoor as the backdrop, Breaking Light could not be more different to Death in Devon. Not requiring a Pimms so much as a steadying/warming whisky and ginger. It’s one of the fascinating things about books - the sheer diversity, same county, same skills.
The feeling with Breaking Light is that it’s the literary equivalent of a Scandinavian television drama. It’s perfectly constructed with well drawn characters and ended with meticulous tying of loose ends. Sheer precision.
Gabriel returns to the Dartmoor village of his boyhood and recalls the summers he spent with his friend Michael and how it all disintegrated, from the closeness to the catastrophic. As Michael’s fingers break under a hammer blow, (page 65) “And in all that bright panic and howling, there was a strange and terrible warmth inside Gabriel.” Not always easy to read, particularly the section on an extreme act of violent bullying that destroyed the most meangiful relationship of Gabriel’s life. But it’s also about love and acceptance and the beautiful Mrs Sarobi from Afghanistan..
The inspiration for Breaking Light came after Karin spent four years visiting Dartmoor to carry out research for her Archaeology PhD. She wrote her thesis on Dartmoor’s medieval settlers, and the folklores and stories those settlers created in order to understand the pre-historic remains they discovered on the moors such as stone circles, stone rows, menhirs, hill forts cairns, and kists. In order to carry out her research Karin would camp for two weeks at a time near to the prehistoric remains in some of the remotest parts of the moor. During the four years, Karin fell in love with the raw beauty of Dartmoor, something which comes across in her stunning descriptive passages that bring the moors to life in the book.
Karin was born in Sweden and moved to Britain to study in 1996. She holds a PhD in Archaeology. Her first bestselling novel Island of Wings , was critically acclaimed and was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book Award and the Scottish Book of the Year Award and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Karin is currently writer in residence at the Bogliasco Foundation in Italy .