Reviews for Bright burning things : a novel

Library Journal
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Celebrated stage actress Sonya's career has crashed, along with the glamorous lifestyle it entailed, and she now keeps company constantly with alcohol. As she contemplates her painful childhood and aborted career, the one thing that keeps her reaching for the light is son Tommy—whom she risks losing if she cannot conquer her addiction. Harding's first U.S. outing follows her debut, Harvesting, a best seller in Ireland that won the Kate O'Brien Award, was short-listed for other awards, and was optioned for film. She's also an actress, so she should get the theater details right. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A downtrodden single mother in Dublin shares her inner torment as alcoholism puts her at risk of losing the 4-year-old son she adores. Sonya is a former actress who lost her career and lover when she decided to have her baby. Her narration is imbued with theatrical histrionics both mesmerizing and horrifying—mostly horrifying. The manic affection and pride with which Sonya describes her isolated life with son Tommy and dog Herbie, whom Sonya calls her other “boy,” are belied by the filth and squalor they clearly inhabit. Sonya is a mother who leaves a 4-year-old alone on the beach while she swims in her underwear with her imaginary, “lethal and irresistible…sidekick”; who drinks three bottles of wine and passes out while Tommy sits hungry in front of the television; who, in a burst of obsessive love, presses Tommy against her stomach as if to stuff him back into her womb, almost literally smothering him until he escapes her hold; who slaps him in a pizzeria, where a stranger named David Smythe steps in to pay for their food out of concern and suggests she get help. The sense of impending disaster looms until Sonya’s supposedly estranged father shows up and forces her into rehab, where she interacts with three key characters: Sister Anne, whose spirituality is hard for Sonya to accept but who sees her as redeemable; fellow addict Jimmy, who can't cure himself but offers Sonya practical support; and David Smythe, who (too) coincidentally turns out to be a former addict–turned-counselor and who may or may not offer the safe haven Sonya needs. Harding eschews sentimentality while making it clear that her characters, however warped, are complex human beings. But even after Sonya returns home and regains custody of Tommy, the reader cannot relax and trust that Tommy will be safe in her care. A tour de force of anguish made bearable by glimmers of redemption. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Irish writer, actor, and playwright Harding's latest novel kicks off with an immediate sense of stress and unease. Sonya, actress turned full-time mom, regularly drinks throughout the day to keep her demon or as her son, Tommy, calls it, “the badblackmean fairy [that] makes you do mean things,” at bay. When her father intervenes and insists that she go to rehab, Sonya finds herself fighting a battle much bigger than any role she’s ever played before. As Sonya struggles to get her son back, she becomes entangled with a man who says he has her best interests at heart, but Sonya begins to question his intentions. First impressions might leave the reader thinking that Sonya is just an unlikable narrator, but it quickly becomes unclear if she is merely repellent or actually unreliable. By tackling alcoholism, abuse, and motherhood, Harding has crafted a powerful and suspenseful tale that readers will find hard to put down.

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Irish writer Harding (Harvesting) takes readers on an intimate tour of a woman's booze-addled mind, then ratchets up the heartbreak with a four-year-old and a dog. When Sonya Moriarty was an actress, she lived for applause and her passion controlled the stage, but it came to a screeching halt when she got pregnant. The baby's father didn't want the child and said Sonya wasn't "mother material," so she resolved to raise him alone. Now that her son Tommy is four, the only thing left to absorb her creative passion is alcohol; perpetually drunk Sonya relies on her rescue dog to protect Tommy. She barely remembers to feed either of them, and then it's fish fingers or pizza. One night, she scares herself by losing her temper, letting "the bad fairy in," as Tommy says. The neighbors believe she's neglecting Tommy, so Sonya's estranged father convinces her to go into rehab, where she dutifully works her 12-week program. But to get Tommy back, Sonya must prove she can live responsibly in the real world, which is harder than she thought. VERDICT Through Harding's realistic writing, one feels the profound desperation and pain of addiction. Readers won't soon forget this viscerally raw immersion into addiction.—K.L. Romo, Duncanville, TX

Publishers Weekly
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In Irish writer Harding’s blistering U.S. debut, a former London stage actress finds her life in Dublin derailed by disappointment and alcoholism. Sonya is the single mother of four-year-old Tommy, and, one day while playing with him, she gets blackout drunk, goes for a dip in the ocean, and wakes up the next morning with neither son nor dog in sight. Panicked, she wanders the neighborhood asking people, “Have you seen a big black dog and a little boy?” As it turns out, both are fine, but Sonya isn’t, and her father sends her to rehab. She promises herself not to drink around her son again, though that pledge will be disastrously hard to keep. Harding brilliantly captures both the hilarity and wisdom of Sonya’s 12-step program, with her time in rehab poignantly complicated by Sonya’s separation from Tommy and her fear she might not be reunited with him. When Sonya views the world through sober eyes, the real struggle starts, and she movingly confronts the traumas that helped put the bottle to her lips in the first place. This unflinching portrait of a troubled, tender soul takes readers to the depths of the human heart. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (Dec.)