Book Review: Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding

Bright Burning Things…

About the Book:

Being Tommy’s mother is too much for Sonya.

Too much love, too much fear, too much longing for the cool wine she gulps from the bottle each night. Because Sonya is burning the fish fingers, and driving too fast, and swimming too far from the shore, and Tommy’s life is in her hands.

Once there was the thrill of a London stage, a glowing acting career, fast cars, handsome men. But now there are blackouts and bare cupboards, and her estranged father showing up uninvited. There is Mrs O’Malley spying from across the road. There is the risk of losing Tommy – forever.

My Thoughts:

‘These men, their lives seemed inevitable, their destinies charted from the moment they were born to their crackhead fathers, criminal mothers, junkies, alcos, selfish, stunted, addled parents. Like me. These men were born to mothers like me.’

This novel. It was as gripping as a thriller but as quiet as a whisper. I loved it so much. When we meet Sonya, she is at rock bottom. She’s lost all control over her drinking and is unable to look after herself, nor her son or even her dog, both of which are in danger from her neglect and incapacity. The urge is there to feel enraged at Sonya, to judge her, as those around her certainly are. Yet the instinct is to pause, and consider, not excuse, but to understand. The way this novel is written allows the reader to burrow in, insert yourself into the situation and view it from all angles. It’s a deeply immersive narrative and intensely personal first-person account of what being an addict whilst being a mother, and a daughter, and even a pet owner, might actually be like.

Sonya is an incredibly vulnerable character. She is a single mother with no supports. She has no supports before she goes into rehab and none when she comes out. The vulnerability of this was shocking to me, giving weight to the way in which I personally have judged alcoholics I know. Being inside Sonya’s skin allowed me to understand that my functionality as a non-alcoholic cannot ever be compared to her functionality as an alcoholic, even after she is sober. Sonya’s vulnerability is even more apparent when she becomes the object of interest of another recovering alcoholic, whose charm rapidly sours to gas lighting. This was done so well too, and it was so distressing to see it all unfold, the way in which an addict, who is already doubting every second of their day and night, every thought they have, every action they take; she didn’t stand a chance.

Ultimately though this novel is incredibly empowering. It’s a testament to the power of love winning out against the cravings of addiction, of believing in a higher order, something to cling to and focus on. I never really understood the links between prayer and recovery, but I loved the way it was presented within this novel, as a construct completely separate from religion, not even a part of religion at all, but rather, a source of inner strength, a chain to you and something else that you can call on in your darkest moments. In many ways this was a reminder that there are really great and devoted people out there helping others through religious organisations; that religion and those who work within its framework, are not all corrupt and abusive; they are people on the ground, working one on one with addicts, and making a real difference.

This is Irish fiction but not hugely Irish, if that makes any sense. It could have been set in any city, the anonymity of it driving home the universal problem of addiction and the many social and welfare issues linking back to it, not least of all, child safety concerns. The importance of wrap around support during the detox phase and continuing on throughout recovery cannot be overemphasised, as demonstrated through Sonya’s situation. Check your judgement at the door. Bright Burning Things is a novel that will alter your perspective on addiction.


Thanks is extended to Bloomsbury for providing me with a copy of Bright Burning Things for review.

Bright Burning Things
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Released 4th March 2021

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding

    • Funnily enough, or maybe not so funny, I was one of those neglected children of an alcoholic. I was fully prepared to judge, but found myself drawn in nonetheless. If only my own mother had made any of the efforts this character did, but alas, that was not to be.


      • I don’t know why it was, but most of the kids I came across didn’t have that extended family support. Maybe estrangement was the catalyst for the alcoholism, or maybe extended family just gave up on them. But for most of our kids, it was unfortunately only the welfare authorities that we could call on.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve always considered myself fortunate for having grandparents who were more than willing to take care of me. My life might have (would have) been vastly different without them. We moved away from my grandparents when I was 11, a deliberate move my mother made to distance herself from her parents, but things were difficult after that up until I finished year 12 and left home (the very next day after graduation). I cared for my sister and kept the household going all through my teen years since we were so far away from my grandparents.


  1. Thank you so much Theresa for such a thoughtful, considered review. I was very touched reading your response. I apprecaite you taking the time and care to do this.
    Lisa Harding

    Liked by 1 person

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