New Fiction: Night of Fire – Colin Thubron

Thubron is one of the best known and most highly respected travel writers of our time as well as a highly-acclaimed, award-winning novelist. This latest novel seems to me the culmination of a life spent contemplating the human condition in both fiction and nonfiction. It is a wide-ranging and deeply moving story that explores the lives of six tenants in a house the night their home catches fire.

From a hallucinating drug addict who lives in the basement to the landlord training his telescope on the night skies, tenants’ stories show us the scope of human experience—from an African refugee camp to Greek Orthodox monasteries and the cremation-grounds of India. At the heart of the story is the question that haunts us all: Can memories survive us in some form?

The Times of London named Thubron one of the 50 greatest postwar writers. While he is best-known in the U.S. for his travel writing, his novels employ similar techniques of observation and memory in meditations on what it is to be human. In fact, Ursula LeGuin addresses just that in her review of Night of Fire in The Guardian:

“Each life story, or a significant scene or event from each, is told with all this writer’s irresistible narrative gift. The novel displays the sensitive curiosity about other lives, and keen observation of how people differ, that distinguishes his travel writing…complex and skillful, yet transparent, without trickery.”

This book has already been released in England to universal praise. I expect the same here. There are already two starred advance reviews and the NYTBR is scheduled to review.

“A vivid and wistful meditation on the mysteries of diverse lands, personality, and memory…Thubron is remarkable for his supple, nuanced prose and concentration on individual personalities as well as place. This evocative and philosophical novel reminds us that such qualities make for powerful fiction as well.”
Booklist (starred review)

An engrossing novel by the celebrated travel writer…Thubron intrigues with his many resonances and takes the reader on a journey through life’s essential questions.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A Victorian house somewhere near the sea, ruined over time, is burning down. Chapter by chapter, room by smoky room, Thubron’s remarkable novel journeys into the lives of the house’s six occupants, mining their pasts and the places they’ve traveled for answers to questions that have plagued mankind since Socrates. What is memory? Does it constitute one’s very self, or conquer death as something inherited, like a story? … By the time we arrive at the luminous chapter devoted to the traveler, it is clear these restless tenants have more in common than we first imagined. All of them recognize, as the traveler does, that ‘an obscure rankling never quite died—as if there had, after all, been a destination that had eluded him.’”
Publishers Weekly

Night of Fire (9780062499745) by Colin Thubron. $26.99 hardcover. 1/17/17 on sale.

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