Book Review: The Light of the World by Ellen Simpson

Ellen Simpson masterfully cultivates romance with mystery and fantasy in her incredible fictional treasure, The Light of the World. It is a testament to Simpson’s genuine and heartfelt writing style that she is able to captivate and command reader attention with her dynamic characters and riveting plot.

The main protagonist in Simpson’s book is Eva Kessler. At the outset, the reader learns that Eva is a young college dropout who suffers from depression and is trying to rediscover her  purpose in life. Having attempted suicide, Eva harbors intense emotional vulnerability. Depression constantly shadows her like an unwelcome companion that insinuates itself upon every aspect of her life. She is forced to reconcile her past choices as she moves forward.

The reader meets Eva at the funeral of her over 100-year-old grandmother, Mary Kessler. Mary is painted as a difficult woman with a manner that terrified many people. She was distant with her son and had a strained relationship with her daughter-in-law. Yet, it is evident that despite Mary’s shortcomings, Eva loved her grandmother. When Eva voices to her parents that the family didn’t know much about Mary’s past, the young woman is on a mission to learn more about her grandmother’s life. Her efforts are rewarded when, upon helping her parents clean out Mary’s apartment, Eva unearths a series of her grandmother’s diaries from 1925.  In these diaries, Mary vividly writes about her life as a sixteen-year-old living and working in New York. The hallmark of Mary’s diaries are centered around her relationship with a young woman she met on a train. This woman, nicknamed Wren, enchanted young Mary. However, as quickly as Wren entered Mary’s life she also quickly disappears. In addition, Mary writes about “the light of the world.”  Eva is determined to learn what happened to Wren and whether Wren’s mysterious disappearance from Mary’s life shaped her sad and lonely later years. Along the way, Eva also discovers things about herself that help her in determining her own future.

The Light of the World is rich in suspense and mystery. Eva is assisted in her efforts in understanding Mary’s past by supporting characters Olivia (Liv), Al and Theo. The reader will be particularly impressed with the strength in which Simpson writes her female characters Eva and Liv. These are young women whose destinies are linked. Further, even Mary’s voice is preserved from beyond the grave through her powerful diary entries. Readers who are undecided about whether or not they like elderly Mary will sympathize with the plight of young Mary. Finally, Liv represents the vehicle that connects the past and the present.

With incredible descriptive imagery, well drawn characters, pulsating plot and poignant emotion, The Light of the World is a page turner destined to leave an indelible mark on the minds of its readers.

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