REVIEW! A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

39080732The Center for women’s reproductive health offers a last chance at hope – but nobody ends up there by choice.

It’s very existence is controversial, and to the demonstrators who barricade the building every day, the service it offers is no different from legalised murder.

Now life and death decisions are being made horrifyingly real: a lone protester with a gun has taken the staff, patients and visitors hostage.

Certainties unwind as truths and secrets are peeled away, revealing the complexity of balancing the right to life with the right to choose.

Jodi Picoult has developed a reputation as a writer unafraid to confront certainties. Over the course of her many novels, she has challenge perceptions in a number of complex contemporary debates including gun control, assisted dying, and the Black Lives Matter movement. In her latest novel, A Spark of Light, she turns her pen to abortion laws; an especially controversial topic in Picoult’s native US where an increasingly conservative Supreme Court may reverse Roe vs Wade, but also a topic of fierce and deeply-held beliefs the world over.

It’s a debate that requires careful representation on the page and, to her credit, Picoult balances her novel extremely well, giving voice to both sides of the argument, from the doctor who performs abortions because of his faith and not in spite of it, to the pro-life protestor disguised as a patient, Picoult provides the reader with a set of rounded and developed individuals, each with their own beliefs and motivations. Depending on your viewpoint, some of them may be deeply unlikeable but, thanks to the strength of Picoult’s writing, they are all human.

Unravelling backwards through the hours of the standoff, the narrative plays with time to both increase the tension and unpack the debate. As Picoult herself writes in her author’s note, ‘Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of grey’. In constructing her novel backwards, Picoult casts light on these myriad shades of grey, revealing motivations after actions, thereby encouraging the reader into judgement before leading them to understanding. It’s extremely cleverly done and led to me questioning my view of more than one character or event in the book.

Having had the pleasure of hearing Picoult speak during an event held at Booka Bookshop, I’m aware of how much research went into A Spark of Light. Picoult visited abortion clinics and witnessed abortions, spoke with pro-life protesters, and interviewed women who have had abortions. Her research certainly shows in the book, however, it isn’t worn heavily. It is clear that Picoult, who speaks with passion and eloquence when discussing this debate in person, wanted to do justice to the complexities but still write an engaging and readable novel. By ensuring her novel is driven by characters and their situations, she succeeds in this and, as a result, A Spark of Light never feels dry or preachy – although I think it’s fairly clear which side of the debate Picoult herself sits on.

I feel that, as a writer, Picoult is often dismissed as writing ‘women’s fiction with issues’. As with many of these labels, this in no way does justice to her books. Yes, A Spark of Light does deal with a controversial issue. And yes, many of the characters featured are women. However, with strong, controlled prose, a deep and meaningful narrative, and developed, complex characters, A Spark of Light offers a powerful and thought-provoking read that deserves to be widely read. Picoult’s many fans will doubtless find much to praise in her latest work but, for those readers who have not yet picked up one of her novels, A Spark of Light offers a compelling narrative that is sure to spark conversation and engage debate.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. I was able to sign up and read A Spark of Light as a serialisation on The Pigeonhole, the book club in your pocket, and also won tickets to the Booka Bookshop event through then. My review is, as always, however, unbiased and all opinions are my own. 

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