Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding: Peering into the core of maternal love

Harding boldly exposes those hypocrisies that create manipulative mothers and destroy childhoods

Irish writer and actress Lisa Harding  in Paris in 2019. File Photograph: Christophe Archambault /AFP/Getty Images

Irish writer and actress Lisa Harding in Paris in 2019. File Photograph: Christophe Archambault /AFP/Getty Images

Motherhood can bring out the worst in a woman. This uncomfortable truth glitters like broken glass throughout Lisa Harding’s compelling novel about an alcoholic actress.

Bright Burning Things opens like a thriller. A woman frolics with her four-year-old son and shaggy black dog in the sea. The family appears charmingly disinhibited, the mother, Sonya, swimming in bra and pants, registering her sensations in a choppy, canny, voice. Thrilled to a fever pitch by her son’s hand in hers and something that she calls her imp, which could be alcohol, mental illness or artistic genius, she surges through salty water. There’s a hint of Sonya’s old, applauded role as Juliet in her euphoria at “the sunlight refracted like so many stars”.

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