My first reaction to Lilian Quick, the narrator and protagonist of Radiant Shimmering Light, was that I did not like her. I came close to setting the book aside and returning it to the library unfinished but decided there was potential for her to change and so kept reading.
Spoiler alert: she doesn’t change.
In fact, very little really changes through the course of the novel. Lilian’s external circumstances are altered quite a bit by the end – she has more money, she’s more successful – but her personal knowledge and who she actually is is almost exactly the same. Which is too bad because I found her pretty aggravating.
Lilian is an artist; she paints pet portraits exclusively because she has the unusual ability to see animal auras. She lives in a sublet in Toronto and struggles financially. She follows a myriad of self-help/meditation gurus and blogs and is always looking to improve herself, with little success. She has recently tracked down her cousin, Florence, her best friend from childhood who is now known as Eleven Novak and is a huge self-help guru. When they reconnect Eleven seems able to offer Lilian all the things she ever wanted and Lilian follows her to New York to work at Eleven’s Temple. (Yes, it’s actually called that.)
Maybe I’m the wrong audience for this because I don’t read self-help books, I don’t believe in auras and I generally roll my eyes at concepts of self-actualization or speakers who try and amp up audiences over the “divine feminine”. I kept waiting for Lilian to realize she had entered a pseudo-cult/pyramid scheme but the conclusion comes and she’s more immersed than ever. None of the characters really change or grow or learn anything new.
Social media is a big part of the story and of these characters’ lives and Selecky does a good job of portraying Instagram and text messaging in a way that feels real and makes the text of the novel more dynamic. I was surprised however when we learn that Lilian is forty years old. To me, she is strangely addicted to her phone for someone who grew up before the digital age. In addition, it seems like everyone Lilian knows is Famous on the Internet, which just doesn’t feel realistic. For me, this was part of what I found annoying – just turn your damn phone off if it’s causing you so much anxiety! The novel is told in first person narration and perhaps the greater distance a third person narrator affords might have helped me be more sympathetic. As it is, even though the book didn’t take long to read, I’m not sure what feeling I’m supposed to be left with or why this story needed to be told.