Gail Jones, Sixty Lights, set in Australia, India and England in the 19th Century, follows the multi-faceted life of the capricious Lucy Strange as she develops her modernistic view of light and the world,

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Kane Solly

Memory is deceptive because it is coloured by today's events’- Albert Einstein

Literature is a constantly contested and revised term coined to separate the literary world into works of superior or lasting artistic merit and the ‘other’. This elitist nature used by literary ‘scholars’ created the foundation for all the teachings and ideals of the social, cultural and political thoughts of their times. The worth of literature and the means of classification have stemmed from a culmination of varying critique, seen by the changes in phase of perspective from Modernism; valuing the ‘grand narratives of truth’; to New Criticism; the objective evaluation of the ‘text’; and Post-modernism; the movement away from the hierarchy of literature. Thematics, messages, tropes, contexts and the social, cultural and political hierarchy of the time all contribute to the literary ‘worth’ of a text. This agglomeration of features develops texts consisting of the utmost textual integrity; the flow and connection between all the facets of texts.

        Gail Jones, ‘Sixty Lights’, set in Australia, India and England in the 19th Century, follows the multi-faceted life of the capricious and palimpsest Lucy Strange as she develops and uncovers her modernistic view of light and the world, through the tragedies that befall her and the opportunities that arise. Jones develops a highly intricate and polysensual novel enveloping multiple theories on light, exploring and presenting ideas around photography, memory, light, darkness, ghostliness and the non-linearity of time, through her ambiguity, lyrical lexicon, pre-emption, construction, content, language, binaries, intertextuality and manipulation of the forms and modes of narratives. This abundance of noted facets allow for the multiple interpretations and over-arching worth of ‘Sixty Lights’ as a beautifully composed and worthy text supporting its inclusion in the HSC Prescriptions List.

        ‘What remade her world: The capture of light.’(Pg. 139). ‘Sixty Lights’ is set in the 19th Century Victorian society, where the rise of photography becomes apparent and expands to become the ubiquitous form of memory in the 21st Century. Photography; ‘light writing’ is the central theme in the novel, it is ambiguous in the sense that not only does Lucy develop her love and appreciation of this ‘light writing’ but also Gail Jones lexicon choice is a form of ‘light writing’, creating whimsical images captured through her lexicon of image-laden words and light embedded words. ‘Conical’ is repeated throughout the novel in order to both represent the act of photography, the flooding of light into a single image, and the co-working of photography and memory, ‘silver and conical; as seen in the opening scene. This ‘light writing’ is evident throughout, as each sentence; each paragraph can stand alone as an image, as a beacon of light.

        ‘Photography has without doubt made her a seer; she is a woman of the future, someone leaning into time, beyond others, precarious, unafraid to fall’, there is constant reference to her ‘falling’ and ‘stepping’ into the future, instead of dwelling on the past, she moves on to the prospects of the future. This futuristic and unconventional thought process is in its essence modernist. Lucy, although from the Victorian era, is a modernist character, unhindered or swayed by the conventions of her social construct, searching, discovering and capturing the truths that are imbedded in the world. She travels the streets un-chaperoned at night; she tastes ‘pan-wallah’ in India and moves from the ‘science’ of photography into the aesthetic and omnipresent nature of the image.

‘Sixty Lights’ primarily mimics the action of memory, recurring and redoubling as a series of hallucinated images which re-member the Victorian period. With its sixty chapters that read as sixty snapshots, some apparently unrelated to the others, ‘Sixty Lights’ is equivalent to an album of photographs; a collection of memories, offering images that are partly shrouded by shadow, ‘flecked with time’, coloured by loss, following along with Lucy’s personal philosophy. The implication of the novels’ depiction of reading as the drawing off of other experiences is that ‘Sixty Lights’ offers the Victorian era as the séance of another experience, another time, into ourselves. Indeed, through the notion of embodied and inherited memory, they offer the Victorian era as part of our heritage, and inheritance; the Victorian period is written into our cultural memory.

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Thus, the Victorian past is offered to us, through a series of references to popular Victorian novels, photographs, fashion, events and landmarks, as an afterimage, a picture that we continue to see in ‘ghosted’ form. ‘Sixty Light’ is a repetition of the Victorian period, medium for its haunting presence. The exploration of Victorian photography and reading foregrounds memory’s discourse, both its loss and retrieval writing the Victorian period into our cultural memory, and suggesting that it has left myriad traces embodied in texts, images and other material, if transient, forms. Rather than focus upon the problematisation of historical representation, ‘Sixty ...

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