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Light of the Fireflies, The MP3 CD – Audiobook, April 1, 2016
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MP3 CD, Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged
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First, the good: I found the premise deeply fascinating. I'm a lifelong fan of horror, especially the intimate horror of family dysfunction, and this book certainly delivers on that front. The story opens with the narrator's older sister giving birth, which immediately sets up a sense of dissonance between the narrator's blithe acceptance of what is, to him, a perfectly normal life - he is, after all, ten years old and doesn't understand how pregnancy happens - and the reader's horror and disgust at knowing that, since the sister isn't allowed to leave and no one else is allowed in, her baby must have been conceived through incestuous rape.
Using a young boy who was born into this situation and has never known anything else allows the writer to create many instances of this dissonance and thus subtly weave a truly horrifying atmosphere. The narrator accepts every aspect of his life as normal, and shows us many things that we, as adult readers, understand to be wrong, while he has no idea what's going on. Similarly to his sister's pregnancy, we are told that his older brother routinely masturbates in the bed above his in their shared room, except that the narrator doesn't understand that's what his brother is doing. We do, however.
The abuse dynamics among the family are quite believable as well. The sister is the family scapegoat, blamed for all that has befallen them - despite it having been the parents' choice to cloister themselves away - and punished much more severely than any of her siblings. The father is controlling and harsh. The children are pitted against each other to keep them from becoming allies against their controlling, abusive parents.
As time goes on, the family's secrets come to light, and this is where the bad begins. Years ago, the older sister accidentally caused her brother to suffer a severe head injury from falling down the stairs, and then covered up what had happened rather than getting him immediate medical help. Because of this mistake - a terrible mistake to have made, certainly - she is held responsible for everything else that happens. She is extravagantly punished and regarded by both her parents and the narrative itself as evil. Throughout the story, she is presented not as a young woman who made a terrible mistake as a child and has since suffered ongoing sexual and emotional abuse as a punishment for that mistake, who is justifiably angry with her abusers and who is trying to escape, but as a malicious, manipulative, hateful person. The narrative itself oozes with contempt for her.
The book's treatment of the disabled brother is grotesque.
Much attention is paid to his sexuality, and that sexuality is presented exclusively as disgusting, violent, and animalistic. At one point, in the backstory portion of the book, a girl in the town goes missing; it is later discovered that the disabled brother found her washed up on the shore and continuously raped her while she was dying and then after she was dead, because he was simply too disabled to understand that she was hurt or needed help or that it was wrong to rape her. As I mentioned earlier, he publicly masturbates above the narrator in bed, and it is implied he doesn't understand he shouldn't do this. The sister tries to manipulate the narrator into believing their father impregnated her and continues to abuse her, but it's revealed that it's actually the disabled brother who has been abusing her. (This is treated as another hateful act on the part of the sister; no attention is given to the fact that while her father might not have raped her himself, he allowed her brother to rape and impregnate her.)
'Animalistic' describes the disabled brother to a T. He is not treated as a person, but rather as a beast in the body of a human. He doesn't have a personality aside from the stereotypes the author believes of mentally disabled people. He doesn't have a role in the story except to be disgusting and offputting. His disability is explicitly linked to his various sexual offences, making it quite clear that the author himself must believe that the mentally disabled are beasts ruled entirely by their urges and lack even the ability to understand right or wrong on any level.
The treatment of the older sister is similarly grotesque. As I mentioned before, there is no sympathy extended to her by the narrative for the abuse she has suffered. She's presented as cold and hatefully manipulative, delighting in the downfall of her family, but even when we as the readers fully understand why that is, the narrative still frames her actions as wrong and her motivations as evil. More sympathy and care are given to the child she was forced to birth, not to mention the brother whose abuse impregnated her, than to her.
Ultimately, everyone in the book dies except for the narrator and his infant brother-nephew. It is a terribly unsatisfying ending, and a clear demonstration that the narrative values the life of this infant - borne of incestuous rape - over the life of the young woman who was abused to bring him into the world.
The concept of this book was interesting, and some aspects of it were well executed. However, the treatment of the sister was nothing short of grossly misogynistic, the treatment of the disabled brother made it clear the author views the mentally disabled as subhuman, and the constant refrain of sexual abuse and assault felt less like an attempt to address the sickening reality of this type of abuse and its effect on families and more like sheer voyeurism. The victim of the abuse was presented as hateful and deserving of it, the perpetrator as an animal who didn't even understand what he was doing.
All in all, months after I read this book, I am still disgusted by it. Not only are such portrayals of abuse and disability deeply offensive, they're also just lazy. It's clear the author didn't care to do any research and simply relied on tired stereotypes. The sheer contempt for both women and the disabled that oozes from this book made reading it as a disabled woman a hugely unpleasant experience. I would give this zero stars if I could, and I will never read another work by this author.
I'm glad I didn't pay money for this, the most unsettling, grotesque, debased book I've ever picked up. I wish I had read the reviews first. You, good reader, may or may not have. I realize this review may not be helpful to you, but that's my warning - read the reviews before deciding if this is a book you want to embark on. As for me, I can't get back the 3.5 hours I invested in it (that's right, I didn't finish it, and hope I never do), and I can only hope the memory of it fades. This book is sick, perverted dysfunction slowly revealed. If that's a type of fiction that pulls you in, maybe this is the right book after all. I admit, there's a haunting Sublimity to it in the Gothic literature sense hoping things improve for the narrator's lot in life (for that writing quality I'll give it a second star), but the revulsion outweighed the pull too much for me to keep going.
I wanted it to get better, for the narrator to get out, to be free, but from what I've read... things do not get better. Disability is cruelly misrepresented. There is misogynistic victim blaming. Abuse, rape, pregnancy from incest. And I didn't even read the necrophilia part other reviews warned about after I took a break to read reviews and see if it would ever get better. No thanks. I have better books to invite into my headspace.
Here's the thing, I've read a lot of bad books, but none have wanted to make me write a review telling people not to read it.
Seriously, don't read it unless you want to feel nauseated throughout the whole book. Then you don't even have any satisfaction at the end. You still end up feeling nauseated with a bad taste in your mouth. I wish I could take this book out of my brain. I hated it so much.
I am happy I did not have to pay for this book. The premise of the book was interesting and had promise, but as the story unfolded I just felt disgust and contempt for the people in the book. Mainly disgust at what I was reading. The family is horrible and the treatment of the daughter as the root of all their problems stems from age old trope of women being the cause. The rape of her by her brother who has mental issues is terrible, but what is worse is how they take it out on her just reeks of rape culture. Then the repeated rape by the mentally handicapped brother of an injured woman who later succumbs to her injuries took my disgust to a whole new level. I only kept reading hoping the protagonist and his sister would escape only to be disappointed in the end. It turns out the author ends up trying to justify the family's horrible decision making and re-enforcing the blame on the sister who is killed off seemingly only to let everyone else live happily ever after.
Top international reviews
This isn’t what I’d call an ‘enjoyable’ read. It’s an uncomfortable subject matter, and a heart wrenching story. But I couldn’t put it down. I completely devoured this, staying up until the early hours of the morning to finish it (something I rarely do, I love my sleep too much!).
This was a really cleverly written novel. We begin the story from the point of view of the boy in the basement (no names are used through the story). All we know about the family and their situation is what the boy knows. But a second section of the book takes us back to the events leading up to this situation, which completely changes your perspective of the story.
The set up is very similar to Room, but feels entirely unique. Overall I highly recommend this novel.
Why? The mystery is written so well... whilst I did manage to see some things ahead of time, some important ones, there was one where I was stuck between multiple answers (and it turned out to almost be multiple anyway). The characters are wonderfully complex so the only one I feel I TRULY understand through the entire book is the boy from whom's point we're reading.
The story takes you back into the past a couple of times and it's done better than most books, having all of the chapters from one time period first, then half from the present's, then all of the chapters from the third time period, the last half from the present and one more for the epilogue. It's very well-balanced in this way.
Although there were a few bits I REALLY didn't like in this book, it was simply part of the book and at least most were intended to be that way, I believe.
I admit that I'm not even entirely sure how I feel about this book, however I am not at all sorry for having read it. Although I'm not sure if I'll ever read it again, I am very glad I have. It's thought-provoking and definitely in a good way.
One final thought: I mentioned earlier I read it in only 3 sittings, therefore I could remember enough of the previous parts to not feel too much of a need to go back and check things which happened earlier on in the book, but for the mere reasoning of still feeling a need I'd have much preferred to have read this in a physical copy, but that could just be me and the way I read some books.
Anyone who has suffered emotional trauma in their life should avoid this book. It is a sick and twisted story about a sick and twisted family.
Which it does. And although you do want a happy ending, it's an unconvincing one & I felt underwhelmed and generally confused by it. I found it easy to look behind the reasons each character acted throughout the book, and how it related to the family secret, but with such a dark storyline, the very easy happily ever after is pretty...anticlimactic. The villain dies in an almost "oops need to put this in" moment that lasts for a sentence or two, the young son seemingly grows up with no lasting psychological effects and the basement continues on with life, escaping the awful secret once more. So because of this, I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5
However, it was a really enjoyable and compulsive book to read which I will recommend...with a warning that the ending is off.
Kept me guessing throughout and kept me up for hours as I had to know what happens next.
This is a touching story and I would recommend it highly. The author captured family life with all it's intricacies perfectly and in such a dark, sometimes horrific and twisted scenario there were beautiful moments throughout.
This tale touched me and made me shudder to my core at times. Well worth reading.