Annette Gilson is a master of fiction. She has spent several years perfecting her craft, and it shows in her novel New Light.
It’s not exactly a romance, nor is it a philosophical or scientific work. It’s not fantasy, but it definitely doesn’t feel like it’s based on reality. New Light is a hybrid of a myriad of genres neatly woven together to create a whole new kind of novel.
Gilson takes on the awe-inspiring task of taking a mysterious and otherworldly subject – visions – and explores what makes it so fascinating by using a blend of scientific and poetic language. If any other author tried to do so, I’m sure it would have become a muddled mess, but Gilson does so with ease. She is able to perfectly balance her vivid images with scientific jargon that overwhelms and pacifies the reader into understanding.
As we dive into New Light, we are no more experienced than Beth, the protagonist who opens the novel with her very first vision. As she learns about her visions and the commune of visionaries, New Light, we too learn more about the lucrative world Gilson creates.
Of course, Gilson’s world is not a fantasy. It is based on a real life commune called East Wind, and the setting takes place in modern day America. No magic spells, no fantastic beasts or monsters. Just you, Beth, and Houdini – who is named after the famous magician, but is in fact not a magician himself. He is a scientist, and he is your tour guide along the journey through New Light.
New Light is written in first person, with Beth being the narrator of the tale. Having Beth tell her story allows the reader to be intimately involved. We are right alongside Beth as she discovers more about her visions. Not only that, but Beth is a believable character who is easy to sympathize with. She has a strong voice that is clear, mystical, analytical, and full of curiosity and wonder. While reading, you can’t help but connect to her. You wish to understand her and her visions, just as much as she does. By having a character to latch onto, Gilson is able to lead us along without ever losing the reader’s interest. A smart choice for a book so filled with scientific terminology it is almost daunting to read.
In fact, the clinical terms that Houdini, the potential love interest and hesitant friend of Beth, spouts out throughout the course of the book forces the reader to slow down and really pay attention to every word Gilson is writing. It’s like reading a text book at times, but taking the time to try and understand Chaos Theory, Visions, and Strange Attractors allows you to fully understand the magnitude and genius within Gilson’s novel.
In addition to the main story line about Beth and Houdini trying to learn more about visions and what causes them, Gilson sprinkles in backstory of the characters to help the reader understand them more and feel more connected. Gilson ties the past and present day seamlessly, using well timed flashbacks to give more insight to Beth’s personality. The only hint that there is a separation in time being the blank spaces between paragraphs to signal a change. The use of flashbacks mirrors a person’s stream of consciousness, appearing when Beth notices something that reminds her of a detail of her past. These details are important to Beth’s characterization and to the plot of the novel, and are definitely not passages to be skimmed over.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the attention to detail Gilson has toward the visions. She takes the time to meticulously describe each vision, by hitting all of the senses and enabling me to feel like I was the one having the visions. I could feel my skin tingling as Beth was overtaken by the orgasmic visions in her mind. Gilson describes the universe with words in a way I never thought was possible. It was beautiful, it was cosmic, it was enlightening. I felt like I understood the inner workings of the cosmos.
To fully appreciate and understand the book, you must surrender yourself to Gilson and the visions she writes onto the page. Like Beth, you must immerse yourself in the story to learn about New Light. Gilson’s novel is a work of art composed of ink letters on paper instead of oil paints on canvas. It is truly a visionary tale, and one that should be painted as a mural on the side of barn or hallway.