A bookstore next to my place was closing down and putting all its hidden shelves' stock out on display to sell. I found in the middle of other forgotten books this very cool artistic cover. I fell in love with it immediately after reading a few key words on the back cover "intense relationship", "painful past", "dreadful accident" and "disturbing, manipulative influence" (yes, yes, it's all me, Miss Glass-half-full) and bought it without any other form of questioning.
The story revolves around Olivia, who is getting to know better and better her boarding school friend Leila, a brilliant and very lonely girl, who seems to be carrying a burden from her past. Going to her house for the summer, Olivia discovers bit by bit what happened 9 years ago, with Leila's baby brother, her bitter stepmother Katherine and her evil friend Rosie.
The first surprise is that it is the author Sarah Stovell's first (and only for now) book, and that it is a very interesting debut novel. Not only is the writing pretty gripping with its change of narrator / change of point of view style where you discover new clues each time over what happened. But the plot is incredible because you question the past events until the very end.
The second surprise is that the two main characters - Leila and Olivia - are actually a couple (talk about all-girl boarding schools fantasies...), and you discover the intensity of their feelings as the novel unfolds, but the LGBT theme in itself is not the point of this book. The real theme of the book is love, not the gooey glittery pink love that you see in most romances, but the love for the other (whomever), for who that person is (flaws, mistakes, doubts, evil included). This love encompasses the love between lovers, between friends, but also between members of the same family. The relationship between Leila and her stepmother Katherine has always been strained, even from the very beginning, and I feel that Stovell's talent has been to create such a depth in their feelings for each other without leaning too much on it by plainly describing it.
Sarah Stovell's Mothernight page on her editor Snowbooks website specifies that the title comes from the night of the Winter Solstice, called Mother Night in Norse mythology, which is the night where Leila's baby brother dies nine years before. But my curiosity googled the title and it also comes from a paragraph in Goethe's Faust which hints that there can be no light without darkness. Voluntary or not, this reference is totally embodied by the characters, all of them on different scales. I can't resist to put the very poetic extract from Faust:
"A man, the microcosmic fool, down in his soulIs wont to think himself a whole,But I'm part of the Part which at the first was all,Part of the Darkness that gave birth to Light,The haughty Light that now with Mother NightDisputes her ancient rank and space withal,And yet 'twill not succeed, since, strive as strive it may,Fettered to bodies will Light stay."
Faust - Goethe
I wouldn't say that this is a must-read or one of the best books I have ever read, but it is a very promising debut, and Sarah Stovell is definitely a writer I will look out for in the future, hopefully not in hidden and forgotten stacks of books.