Review of “Spent Light” by Lara Pawson: Exploring the Hidden Depths of Mundane Life.
The title of the book is “Pent Light” and it falls into a genre that is not quite a memoir or autofiction. Instead, it could be considered life writing, although the subjects of this writing are not human. The author, Pawson, is inspired by objects that are typically seen as lifeless, but are actually created and exchanged within harmful systems. The book itself is one of these objects and serves as a physical reminder, in case you had not noticed. (The book delves into topics that may have escaped your attention or that you have purposely ignored.)
The narrator receives a toaster from a deceased neighbor, likening it to a handbag and noting the lights above the controls resemble a dog’s nipple or a trigger pin on a semi-automatic gun. This comparison is further emphasized when the narrator describes the lights evoking pleasure similar to that of stimulation on the clitoris. The narrator is enthralled by this description and notes that the three words on the toaster are printed in a font similar to that of CIA documents. These words – REHEAT, DEFROST, CANCEL – serve as a synopsis of the Anthropocene, showcasing the book’s commitment to deep thought and observation. This book does not shy away from confronting difficult truths.
Initially, Spent Light appears to focus on figurative language. The narrator draws comparisons between everyday objects and darker connotations, such as a timer used for boiling eggs being the same brand used by IRA bomb-makers. She expresses a desire to use it for malicious purposes, just to experience the feeling of creating fear. Other examples include the gas under the egg pan reminding her of Zyklon B and the crematoriums of Auschwitz, and washing her Victorian house floor while thinking of the history behind the tiles, including a disturbing photo of two Congolese boys whose hands were cut off by Belgian soldiers during the reign of King Leopold II’s declaration of the État Indépendent du Congo.
These are not figurative comparisons, but actual connections, ways in which objects create networks. The culture of England is filled with references to blood, both literally and metaphorically, although we tend to overlook it. Eventually, the narrator’s attention shifts to a phone, triggering memories of her previous phone being dropped and broken on a country road. She struggles to remember the name of a town in the southern Congo where children mine cobalt from rocks and where sexual violence against young girls is rampant. This leads her to contemplate the difference between herself, with her mobile phone, and the millions of men who pay for and view images of child abuse in a desperate attempt to be sexually aroused.
The recipient, referred to as “you”, is the romantic partner of the narrator. She desires her phone in order to share with him that she has been enjoying large, wild blackberries near the Kingsmill factory, observing a young fox sleeping in the grass, witnessing a man wearing a purple turban playing cricket with his daughter, and seeing a dog catch and kill a young pigeon. She also mentions that she had to finish off the pigeon in front of an unaware cyclist. The sentence continues for four pages, ending with declarations of love and longing to return home. However, there is a dark undertone as there is blood on the floor at home and household items have been used as instruments of torture. These objects reveal unpleasant truths that are difficult to accept, but the love expressed in the letter is also genuine.
Spent Light is, obviously, not comfortable reading, but it is wild, bold writing in league with perfectly clear thinking, and while disturbing it is also, in a satisfyingly dark and absurd way, comic. Shelve it with Lucy Ellmann, Miriam Toews, Jenny Offill; brilliant, disillusioned women in absolute control of glorious prose.