A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
Published by Simon & Schuster UK on August 28, 2014
Genres: Gothic, Mystery
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: NetGalley
Purchase on: Amazon// Barnes & Noble// BookBub
Add to: Goodreads // StoryGraph

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.
In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.
But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.
A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all


This book was amazing and worth all five out of five stars, without a doubt. ‘A Sudden Light‘ is an American Gothic masterpiece that is centered around the Riddell family, chronicling their self-destructive demise over the decades. Garth Stein is able to expertly weave multiple stories into a cohesive tale that is as heartbreaking, as it is hopeful.

We step into the story through Trevor Riddell’s eyes, the latest member of the Riddell family, as he joins his father, Jones, to the ancestral house in Washington state. Trevor is there to help his father “settle things,” which at the start seems simple. Simply sell the property and divide the money so that Jones can reunite with his recently estranged wife and the three can be a family again. Matters become complicated when the history of the land reveals itself via ghosts and secret writings which plague Trevor, forcing him to choose between saving his parents’ marriage and doing the right thing. He meets the ghost of his great grand-uncle, Ben, who died a tragic death at a young age. Ben makes himself visible to Trevor, pleading for him to help end the Riddell family misfortune and set him free. You see, after Ben’s death, his father Elijah redrew his will explicitly stating his wishes that the land and home they owned, known as The North Estate, would be given back to nature. Once his descendants decided to move out of the house, it would be turned into a state park/nature preserve as a method of penance for forcing his son Ben to go against his nature, and for all of the land he helped destroy during the westward expansion. So far, his wishes have been grudgingly adhered to until recently.

Trevor’s aunt, ‘Simply’ Serena, has been living at The North Estate her entire life, and became her father’s caretaker upon the death of her mother. She summons her brother, Jones, to the house with the hope that he will be able to convince their father Samuel to either sell the property, or sign over the rights so that they could sell it. Throughout the novel, there is a feeling that something isn’t right with Serena and that she has a hidden agenda with her desire to sell the property. Stein does a fantastic job in writing her character and creating the constant state of unease and suspicion readers feel when she appears. He truly shows his skill in handling Serena’s character, as her problematic upbringing would automatically incite sympathy and understanding from readers, yet seen through her current actions, there is only a mild afterthought of pity.

A Sudden Light has all of the trappings of a typical American Gothic novel: family secrets, ghosts, the conflict of the rational and irrational, festering guilt, possible incest, and of course, a sprawling landscape in neglected decay reflecting the conflict and misery of its inhabitants, both living and deceased. It is a superb book that is so absorbing, readers will not be able to put it down until they reach the end.


Leave a Reply