Sonya used to perform on stage. She attended glamorous parties, dated handsome men, rode in fast cars. But somewhere along the way, the stage lights Sonya lived for dimmed to black. In their absence, came darkness—blackouts, empty cupboards, hazy nights she could not remember. What kept her from losing herself completely was Tommy, her son. But her love for Tommy rivaled her love for the bottle. Eventually Sonya was forced to make a choice. Give up drinking or lose Tommy—forever.
Intense and unnerving ... There’s a lot to lament, and even more to rail against, in a novel that becomes a ferocious jeremiad against life’s suffocating forces ... It’s moments of sobering clarity such as this, and their promise of a redemptive ending, that carry the reader through so many harrowing pages of self-evisceration ... Harding’s protagonist is a singular creation: complex, contrary, drily funny in a characteristically Irish fashion. Written with great energy and generosity, Bright Burning Things is the raw and emotional story of a woman’s search for self-knowledge; one that grips from the beginning.
Lisa Harding’s second novel, Bright Burning Things is moving—humane and emotionally scrubbed raw—as a depiction of Sonya’s journey to the bottom of the bottle and (after her father’s intervention) her desperate efforts to claw her way back to sobriety to regain her life ... Bright Burning Things...offers both Sonya and the readers strands of hope. And despite its grim narrative, the book has its lighter, funnier moments ... Harding channels Sonya’s exposed nerve endings with a potent poignancy ... While Sonya resists embracing the surrender to a higher power, she does find sympathetic and thoughtful allies ... Their help doesn’t provide any simple answers or pat endings for Sonya. Harding is too determined to make us see the potential pitfalls that will forever lurk out there [.]
Compelling ... Harding seamlessly excavates our superficial notions of goodness ... I might have liked the book even more had Harding poked at motherhood without giving Sonya a problematic family past. The altered state of parenthood, a high as dizzying as alcohol, is too rarely discussed. We all need something bigger than ourselves. Parents of younger children can find themselves locked in a lonely, irreducible passion ... Harding brilliantly delineates Sonya’s clinging to Tommy ... Harding retains, to the end, those ambiguities that made Sonya a stellar performer of the broken women of Ibsen and Chekov. By refusing to finally 'solve' Sonya, she boldly exposes those hypocrisies of the chattering classes that create manipulative mothers and destroy childhoods.