The Fall of Light

Written by Niall Williams
Review by Lisa Sweeney

The story opens in early 19th-century Ireland. Francis Foley’s wife leaves him after he steals a telescope from their landlord. Francis flees and is determined to lead his four sons to a new and better home on the west coast of Ireland. In his uncompromising stubbornness, Francis forces his sons to cross the swift-flowing River Shannon, which separates the family. Francis searches for his sons and a new home, and his sons follow individual paths that lead them to various parts of Ireland, Europe, Africa, and North America.

Rather than being the epic adventure the plot indicates, the novel focuses on the themes of home, love, and family. Much of the story is told in a narrative form. Williams writes in a dreamy prose that is near poetic at best but lethargic at other times, and the pace of the story is uneven. On occasion, journeys and events are unsatisfactorily condensed into a few pages, and the story, which is burdened by many unbelievable circumstances, occasionally approaches a fairy tale. Historical events such as the potato famine are described briefly and movingly, but remain firmly in the background.