In the middle of the night, an electrical fire sparks in the basement of an apartment building. The outcome is set early: The people inside are likely to die. Colin Thubron steps up to the challenge of making his readers care about characters they will soon lose as he tells each tenant’s story.
In one flat, a priest reflects upon the seed of his faith and the heart-wrenching circumstances that permanently uprooted him from his beliefs. A neurosurgeon sleeps alone despite having worked up the courage to recently get engaged. Across the hall resides a woman who dedicated her life to the study of butterflies. In the basement, a photographer has turned to drugs to fulfill a life left empty by uninspired work and disappointing loves. The oldest tenant mulls over the still-tender memories of his younger years at boarding school. A world traveler contemplates a transformative trip to India during which he revisited the town where he was raised.
All seven tenants experience overlapping struggles and joys that suture their stories together. At times it seems as though Thubron has created only one character with many lifetimes, while still allowing each to be somehow unique, giving the novel an allegorical tone.
Thubron is a seasoned author and a master of travel writing. He creates magnificent imagery through truly remarkable vocabulary that is often too precise to define with the use of context clues alone. The most rewarding aspect of Night of Fire is that it is left open to interpretation, making it a perfect pick for a book club discussion. It is not necessarily a quick read, but it certainly lingers in the mind.