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Gabi's Review

Sarah Perry weaves a wonderfully mystical narrative in Enlightenment which celebrates both passion and reason. She has created a story in which individuals struggle with the limitations of their religious beliefs and learn to make peace with their place in the universe.

Thomas Hart and Grace Macauley, the main characters, are members of the Bethesda Baptist chapel in Aldleigh, Essex. While both share a love of religion, and despite their vast age difference, their questioning of imposed religious beliefs creates an intimate bond between them. Thomas is a journalist and a gay man who finds his sexual inclinations at odds with the teachings of his church. He develops feelings for James Bower, the owner of the local museum, and the two become fascinated with the diaries of a rumoured ghost, Maria Veduva, a 19th-century female astronomer.

Grace begins as an endearingly unconventional child raised by her father, Bethesda's minister, in a culture of fire and brimstone. She too begins to question her faith after she meets Nathan, a fellow student, who introduces her to a much more liberated contemporary way of life. While their intense connection is short-lived, it nevertheless influences Grace to leave the Baptist Chapel in Aldleigh. Eventually, Thomas and Grace come back together with a new perspective on love, the wider world and the beauty of life.

The novel includes the significant astronomical event of a comet as a narrative thread as the transit of its elliptical orbit links individuals across generations. Sarah Perry cleverly and convincingly offers us a modern gothic novel complete with both ghosts and mobile phones and connecting characters from her previous novel The Essex Serpent. Beautifully written, profoundly meditative and rich in evocative imagery, Enlightenment is an utterly captivating read.

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Publisher's Reviews

Thomas Hart and Grace Macauley are fellow worshippers at the Bethesda Baptist chapel in the small Essex town of Aldleigh. Though separated in age by three decades, the pair are kindred spirits - torn between their commitment to religion and their desire for more. But their friendship is threatened by the arrival of love.

Thomas falls for James Bower, who runs the local museum. Together they develop an obsession with the vanished nineteenth-century female astronomer Maria Veduva, said to haunt a nearby manor. Inspired by Maria, and the dawning realisation James may not reciprocate his feelings, Thomas finds solace studying the night skies. Could astronomy offer as much wonder as divine or earthly love?

Meanwhile Grace meets Nathan, a fellow sixth former who represents a different, wilder kind of life. They are drawn passionately together, but quickly pulled apart, casting Grace into the wider world and far away from Thomas.

In time, the mysteries of Aldleigh are revealed, bringing Thomas and Grace back to each other and to a richer understanding of love, of the nature of the world, and the sheer miracle of being alive.