Light From Other Windows is a wonderful examination of human nature and relationships. Josh Maitland takes off for a round the world trip before starting his university degree. As he reaches the final leg of his journey disaster strikes in the form a tsunami which devastates the Canary Islands and takes Josh’s young life with it.
Back in England his family must come to terms with his death and their relationships with him and each other. When a friend makes them aware of a private blog that Josh was keeping as he travelled the family discovers that they didn’t know him as well as they thought they did and each of them is confronted by secrets from their past.
As I read two things struck me immediately. Firstly how quickly I was drawn into the world of the Maitland family and became attached to the different family members. It was something about the timing of the writing that pulled me into their lives and kept me turning page after page to reveal more of their story. Secondly was the use of description which overflowed with similes conjuring sparkling imagery and fitted perfectly with the tone of the novel. These elements of style combined to make for a completely absorbing and entertaining read.
The key philosophical thrust of the book though is family and family relationships. All of the Maitland’s are very much focused on their own lives and can happily talk about how they have been affected by the actions of others. Where they are not so strong, however, is in understanding how they have affected others, including the subconscious impact of things they consider to be secret about themselves.
Josh’s death and the family’s mourning heighten the tension and bring emotions to the surface so when combined with the shocking revelations of their deeply buried secrets no one can come out the other side unscathed. In many ways it is the things that have been hidden and have remained unsaid that has had the biggest influence on family relations and as this sinks in it becomes apparent that everyone is missing out on true relationship as a result.
This is where the book can speak directly into our own lives. Where in our lives and relationships do we hold back for fear of being vulnerable in front of another and how does that subtract from the depth of experience that we have? The Maitland family all thought they had a meaningful relationship with Josh but none of them was actually invested enough in that relationship to understand the truth.
Chris Chalmers has brought us a novel that will undoubtedly entertain a reader for a few hours but he also presents us with an opportunity to reflect on our own lives. What do we run from and where do we hide? What aspects of ourselves do we try to sweep under the carpet? Who do we pretend we are close to but really only know in superficial chatter that barely scratches the surface of their realities? What’s nice is that he’s wrapped all of that up in such an enjoyable read.