Bright Burning Things is a novel about addiction and recovery, as a single mother tries to create the life she wants for her son. Sonya was once a stage actress in London, loving the thrill of the stage, but now she’s back in Ireland, a single mum to Tommy. Her, Tommy, and Herbie, their rescue dog, form a close knit trio, but Sonya can only keep it up by drinking bottles of wine each night, and things are starting to slip from her as she burns the fish fingers and feels like she loves Tommy too much to bear. When her neighbour seems to be spying on her and her estranged father turns up with an ultimatum, Sonya has to try and work out how she can keep Tommy.
This is a powerful look at alcoholism and its impact, especially on a small family without a lot of outside support. Written from Sonya’s perspective, the narrative doesn’t shy away from difficult emotions, and particularly the time Sonya spends in rehab is very raw, with her not sure what has happened to Tommy. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions by the end, especially around Sonya’s family and past as her father doesn’t want to tell her what really happened and she doesn’t find out exactly what Tommy experienced, which people might find frustrating but gives it a sense of reality. Given the type of story, you do almost want to know what would happen after the narrative itself ends, as you become quite invested in Sonya’ recovery.
It is probably important to go into this book knowing it is about alcoholism, as addiction is a topic that might be difficult for some people to read about, but it is an intimate look at someone trying to recover and to look after their son, even in somewhat unconventional ways. The book also exposes the ways in which people don’t get enough support when they’re struggling and how it can be assumed that people have family members or close friends who can provide that support. Bright Burning Things is a gripping and readable book that deals with important topics.