Enlightenment is Sarah Perry’s new novel, due out on May 2nd. Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for the advance copy. I’ve seen Sarah Perry at book events, and also read her lovely The Essex Serpent, so I was attracted to this one, which has some astronomy in it.


by Sarah Perry

A dazzling new work of literary fiction from the author of The Essex Serpent, a story of love and astronomy told over the course of twenty years through the lives of two improbable best friends. 

Thomas Hart and Grace Macaulay have lived all their lives 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 to explore the world beyond their small Baptist community. It is two romantic relationships that will rend their friendship, and in the wake of this rupture, Thomas develops an obsession with a vanished nineteenth-century astronomer said to haunt a nearby manor, and Grace flees Aldleigh entirely for London. 

Over the course of twenty years, by coincidence and design, Thomas and Grace will find their lives brought back into orbit as the mystery of the vanished astronomer unfolds into a devastating tale of love and scientific pursuit. Thomas and Grace will ask themselves what it means to love and be loved, what is fixed and what is mutable, how much of our fate is predestined and written in the stars, and whether they can find their way back to each other. 

A thrillingly ambitious novel of friendship, faith, and unrequited love, rich in symmetry and symbolism, Enlightenment is a shimmering wonder of a book and Sarah Perry’s finest work to date. [goodreads]

My Review

In Enlightenment, Sarah Perry captures small town Essex, its rivers, streets and railways with perfection. She also creates wonderful characters — flawed, ambitious, confused — at odds with each other and yet strangely in harmony.

At the centre we have Thomas Hart, an old school regional newspaper columnist. Out of step with modern times, but his readers treasure him. Thomas’s adventures, real or imaginary, and his conflicts with his faith (and its lack of charity) take centre stage. But Grace, raised in a god-fearing family, with all the confusion that can bring, holds her own in the narrative.

And the mystery of long-dead Maria, and her astronomical observations, haunts them. She is as much a live character in this book as any other.

Enlightenment is beautifully written. Even when I was not comfortable with the tale I was drawn back to it. I enjoyed the astronomy and Thomas’s struggles with learning physics most. The strict baptist religion I did not. But atmosphere… so well created and maintained.

It is not a short book, and it divides into three sections, covering twenty years. And there are no chapters or even *** breaks. This may be solved in the final version, but made reading it hard going, with what seemed like follow-on paragraphs turning out to be from a different point of view. At times it made me want to give up, and accounts for the length of time I spent on it. But the last section is wonderful, and I couldn’t stop. The reader reaps a rich reward!

Perfect for literary mystery enthusiasts who like a little science thrown in.

Book Review | Enlightenment by Sarah Perry
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One thought on “Book Review | Enlightenment by Sarah Perry

  • 28 April, 2024 at 5:55 pm

    Sounds both appealing and unappealing. I think I’d feel a lot like you about the different aspects of the book, and I really struggle with poorly formatted ARCS. I’ve had quite a number of those lately, though not from Netgalley.


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