This post will be split into two parts, a review and an analysis. The review part will be spoiler free where the analysis will give major plot points of the story away in examination. In this way people who just wish to read a review of the novel can do so without being spoiled. Please also not that this is the ONLY warning I will put in for spoilers so be advised for them in the “Analysis” section.
Title: The Light of the Fireflies
Author: Paul Pen
Translator: Simon Bruni
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Psychological Horror
“For his whole life, the boy has lived underground, in a basement with his parents, grandmother, sister, and brother. Before he was born, his family was disfigured by a fire. His sister wears a white mask to cover her burns.
He spends his hours with his cactus, reading his book on insects, or touching the one ray of sunlight that filters in through a crack in the ceiling. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before his own birth, about why they’re shut away.
A few days ago, some fireflies arrived in the basement. His grandma said, There’s no creature more amazing than one that can make its own light. That light makes the boy want to escape, to know the outside world. Problem is, all the doors are locked. And he doesn’t know how to get out.…”
Whenever I read or watch something that was translated into English, I try to remember to take that into account. Language is not only a difference in words; it is a difference in thought and culture. This book was not organized in the same way as one written in English generally would be. In the middle (and you can see this from the table of contents so it’s not a spoiler) the reason for the family’s interment is revealed. This threw me off a bit. Since I now know these reasons, it removed a lot of the surprise from the rest of the novel so I spent that hoping for the proper judgment to come.
Upon completion I couldn’t figure out what bothered me about this tale. It was haunting and compelling with words well woven to pull you in, but the end leaves much to be desired. There is a dissatisfaction in the finale that soured the story for me. There are also passages of odd description that I’m chalking up to the translation, but my real condemnation is in what the story condones. It attempts to force the reader to sympathize with the wrong people, causing a disconnect. This, too, may be due to language/cultural differences, but there are universal standards of decency that I feel Fireflies missed.
It is still spellbinding and well worth the read, which should be quick at only 338 pages, but it is a disturbing tale of lies, manipulation, cover ups, and incest, nor is the ending satisfactory for what the author presents.
Rating: 3 stars