A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT by Madeleine L'Engle


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Grandfather quotes Teresa of Avila and Henry Vaughn (thus the title). "Poetry does illuminate, doesn't it?" he asks. "Doctors with both skill and human compassion are becoming an endangered species," but Daddy Austin is one. Mother does housework to Brahms or Beethoven, cooks to Bach or Scarlatti or Mozart. Vicky, 15, is a poet; and the boss scientist says of her dolphin journal, "Your prose is excellent. . . your imagery is precise and vivid." The family hates plastic grass at funerals, discusses black holes in "heavy" dinner-table conversations, and generally holds the enlightened attitude on everything from prayer to parmesan cheese, which they buy ungrated. "It does have a much more delicate flavor than when it comes out of a jar," says Mother prissily. All this is revealed during the summer that L'Engle's Austin family spends on Seven Bay Island, in the book-filled converted stable where Grandfather, a former minister, is dying of leukemia. To balance her anguish over grandfather's dying and the general atmosphere of death that seems to prevail that summer, Vicky takes comfort and joy from her remarkable ability to communicate nonverbally with dolphins. And she is distracted by the heady dilemma of choosing among three young men: spoiled, rich Zachery, who says he needs her and whose kisses fill her with electricity; Leo Rodney, whose father has just died saving Zachery from suicide, and whom Vicky grows fond of but only as a friend; and Adam, a college student working with the dolphins, who doesn't want to get involved but who answers her telepathic call when she needs him at the mainland hospital--where Grandfather is being transfused and a leukemic, epileptic child has just died in her lap. This last bit of death is almost too much for Vicky, who is probably more sympathetic in her temporary despair than she is elsewhere, mulling repetitively over death, dolphins, and the three young men. There is an irritating air of self-satisfaction to L'Engle's view of Vicky's deep concerns--and to her picture of the family, whose literate quotes but commonplace thoughts seem cast as examples of superior wisdom and compassion.
Pub Date: May 1st, 1980
ISBN: 0374362998
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1980


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