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Light shining in the Forest

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Cast your mind back to 22nd June and the theme of the morning service, led by our young people. “ I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
This was mindfully apt for our club’s book of choice for July –“Light shining in the Forest” by Paul Torday. We had chosen this book mainly because we had so enjoyed reading another of his books, “ Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” and, to be honest, we were looking for a bit of light relief after our struggles with June’s reading, “ The Testament of Mary.”
Well, we got that wrong. Light, it was not.
“ Light shining in the Forest” was fascinating, riveting, disturbing, dark and challenging. One member started to read at 2.00 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon and closed the book just after 5.00 p.m.. She could not put it down! On the other hand, another , with an overactive imagination, had to keep putting it down, because her mind was racing ahead, and always expecting something dreadful to happen: so much so, she committed the cardinal error of going the end to check that things worked out in a reasonable manner.
It is fair to say that everyone agreed that we were intrigued, challenged and bothered by the book and we would recommend it to anyone.
Paul Torday is a brilliant writer. His powers of description are taut and vivid. There is no waffle. Every sentence, every phrase and every word is carefully, meaningfully chosen. Consequently we are drawn in to the claustrophobic darkness of the depths of Kielder Forest, The bird life consists of carnivores: buzzards, magpies, ravens, crows, hawks, not song birds. This darkness, the stillness the silence increases with every step taken into its depths and the sense of brooding evil grows in intensity.
Torday’s depiction of his characters is equally vivid. The main three adults are Norman Stokoe, a rising star in the Civil Service, Pippa, his secretary/ personal assistant and Willie Craig, an aspiring journalist in a dead-end job in the local paper. All three are essentially in non-jobs. Norman is (un)officially a Children’s Czar but the job had ceased to exist by the time he got there; however, no one told Norman. If Norman has not got a job then neither has Pippa – apart from bringing Norman his coffee. And so it goes on. Asked what he does Norman will reply, “ Co-ordination, liaison, strategic direction.” He is in charge of children but comes to realise that he has never spoke to one or had anything to do a child. But he does know how to shake hands, sit on committees, say nothing and be seen as “a safe pair of hands”.
That is, until children in the area start disappearing and Willis Craig, in search of his escape route to London, begins to ask questions.
Britain’s record with the care of children is not great. Chapter 2 is so disturbing as some facts we are shielded from by authority are given. A child “goes missing” in Britain every 5 minutes. Three, and possibly more, have disappeared within an area of twenty miles. No one in authority has made a connection and no one wishes to dig too deeply. Missing/run away? Not important. And, if there might be trouble for a Minister of State, stop asking questions.
The children are Theo Constantine, Becky Thomas and Karen Gilby and their disappearances have been have been quietly ignored, except by their parent(s) until this story begins to unfold.
The new search by our three adults is a search not only for the children but for themselves. This book has so many levels; the personal, the political, the social, the symbolic and the spiritual/theological that it would be difficult to know where to start.
It contains so many contemporary issues that, at times, the reader wonders how the author was so prescient. It is like reading a current newspaper - political cover-ups, quangos, police and social service ineptitude/apathy, missing children, loss and re-finding of faith, etc.
READ it for yourself. We all recommend it. But not on a beach, or by a swimming pool. It is not a holiday read. It requires reflection and even introspection.

Author: Paul Torday

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