‘Bright’s Passage’ by Josh Ritter

I’ve been reading three books concurrently over the last month or so (an audio book in my car, a fat book that lives on my nightstand, and a slimmer book that I can carry around in my handbag), and I have just finished them all around the same time, so here are three book reviews in a row, starting with Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter, which I listened to on audio book and which is read by the author himself.

Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter

My signed copy!

This is a slightly obscure book, because Josh Ritter is generally not known as a novelist but as a singer/songwriter. I’ve been an avid fan of his music for the best part of a decade and have always admired his ability to tell a moving story in the space of a short song. With Bright’s Passage, he finally had a story to tell for which the length of a song simply was not sufficient.

It is set in West Virginia and revolves around the character of Henry Bright, an American soldier who has returned from France after fighting in the First World War. There are three distinct strands to the story. The main one details Bright’s current situation: his wife has just died after giving birth to his son and an angel has told him he must leave his home because his son is going to be the future king of heaven. The other two strands consist of flashbacks to his time spent on the warfront and to his childhood with his mother and a neighbouring girl, Rachel, who eventually becomes his wife.

The chapters are quite short and hop frequently from one timeline to the next so as I was reading (or rather, listening) I found it was not really possible to settle comfortably into one strand of the story for any decent length of time. However, Ritter negotiates this fact skilfully and the narrative still flows nicely, with the excursions into the past serving to inform the storyline of the present.

What I liked most about the book was Ritter’s writing style. You can tell he is a songwriter from the lyrical tone of his words and the novel is scattered generously with his beautiful imagery. It is also a surprisingly funny novel, with wonderfully subtle humour throughout.

If you’re looking for something different, reasonably brief, entertaining, melodious, you can’t go wrong with Bright’s Passage.

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