Article published on May 18, 2017.
Two people. One choice. What if?
Every love story has a beginning…
11th September 2001. Lucy and Gabe meet in New York on a day that will change their lives – and the world – forever. As the city burns behind them, they kiss for the very first time.
Over the next thirteen years they are torn apart, then brought back together, time and time again. It’s a journey of dreams, of desires, of jealousy, of forgiveness – and above all, love.
As Lucy is faced with a devastating choice, she wonders whether their love is a matter of destiny or chance.
…what if this is how their story ends?
Jade Craddock, nb & nudge reviewer and contributor, thought The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo was such a lovely read (as did reviewer Dorothy Flaxman) she had to find out more…
Jade Craddock: Congratulations on your new novel, The Light We Lost. The novel has been compared to One Day, but how aware or wary were you when you were writing your book of it being likened to this novel and did this influence any of your choices?
Jill Santopolo: Thank you for the congratulations! It’s so lovely to have my novel out in the world now. I loved One Day and am absolutely honored that people have been comparing my book to that one, but I wasn’t really thinking about One Day or a potential comparison to it while I was working on The Light We Lost. I was too busy trying to figure out who Lucy and Gabe and Darren were and what their plot was going to be and what I was hoping their story would say to think about what people’s reactions would be after I finished it (if I ever finished it!). But I really am flattered by the comparison; David Nicholls is an author whose writing I admire very much–and who made me sob uncontrollably when his book ended. (I do think, though, that while One Day and The Light We Lost are both tragic love stories about people who meet in college and stay in touch for a long time afterward, The Light We Lost is much more of a love triangle.)
JC: Gabe and Lucy meet on September 11th 2001, what made you choose this date specifically and what influence does it have on their relationship? Would things have happened differently had they met on any other day?
JS: I decided that I wanted Lucy and Gabe to meet on September 11, 2001 because I was in college in New York City at the time, and that experience had a profound effect on me and so many of the people I was in school with then. There’s something about such a perspective-altering event happening on the precipice of adulthood that I think somehow makes its effects even stronger. And I think that Lucy and Gabe’s relationship is forged in the crucible of that day–they were both so vulnerable, that they were able to connect in a way that may have taken months to happen otherwise (or perhaps would have never happened at all). I think their story would have been very different if they’d met on an arbitrary Friday at the student center, for example.
JC: As well as its starting point, the novel is backdropped by many of the crucial geopolitical moments of our age, how much is Gabe and Lucy’s story defined by their times?
JS: I think all of our stories are defined by the time in which we live, and I don’t think Lucy and Gabe are any different. The way Lucy pursues her career goals might have been different had she been born before the women’s liberation movement, for example, and it was only in the 1980s that Columbia University started accepting women as undergraduate students at all, which, of course, would’ve had a big impact on the story. It’s also possible that if the events occurring in the world were different, Gabe might have felt less compelled to witness them. It’s hard, I think, to divorce people and their actions and attitudes from the time and place in which they live.
JC: Gabe and Lucy’s love story is an epic romance, what is it about these love sagas do you think that so appeal to readers?
JS: I think these kinds of love stories often revolve around a first love, and that there’s something people associate with first love that makes it special–that eye-opening magic of being seen and adored and appreciated for the first time. It’s like discovering a new way of existing in the world. And I think–or hope–that books like The Light We Lost bring readers back to that moment where they felt cared about and special and important to someone in a romantic way for the very first time.
JC: There are many points at which Gabe and Lucy’s story could have turned out very differently, as you were writing did you always have the end goal in mind or were you ever tempted to take them down one of these alternate paths and which if any of these paths would you most liked to have followed?
JS: I didn’t know the exact ending of the book until I’d started writing it, but I did know, for the most part, what I wanted to happen. I knew that Gabe and Lucy were going to come together and separate over and over again, and that there would be many obstacles in their way as the years went on. The only alternate path I seriously considered following was a different outcome at the end, but I think it might be too spoiler-y to talk about the ending that I rejected…
JC: And leading on from that, the novel deals with the question of free will versus fate, so had Lucy and Gabe’s story redirected at one of these junctures, do you think ultimately the end result would have been, if not exactly the same, equivalent?
JS: That’s a really great question. I actually don’t think that their paths needed to lead them to this particular result. I think, for example, that if Lucy had gone away with Gabe at the very beginning, their relationship would probably have blown up in a way that would have ruined any sort of potential future they might have had together.
JC: The novel poses an interesting dilemma for the reader by making Darren such a likeable love interest, and making Gabe and Lucy’s love story more complex, as the author did Darren complicate your own perceptions of Gabe and Lucy and their relationship?
JS: I’m glad you liked Darren so much! I knew from the get-go that I wanted to write a story that gave Lucy two men who both fulfilled different parts of her, and I wanted readers to leave not necessarily sure who they would pick were they in Lucy’s shoes. At my US publishing house, the people working on the book have declared themselves either Team Gabe or Team Darren, and the teams each have about an equal number of people on them. That’s the sort of thing I’d hoped would happen when readers finished The Light We Lost.
JC: One of the obstacles in Gabe and Lucy making their relationship work at the start of the novel, is that neither of them are willing to compromise professionally, they both achieve successful careers but arguably don’t achieve the same fulfilment in their personal lives, how important is the idea of compromise to the novel?
JS: I think the idea of compromise is very important to the novel–and I think so is the question of priorities. Lucy, Gabe, and Darren all want many different things, and end up prioritizing what’s most important to them in the moment that they make the decision. I think Lucy would probably say that her life ended up being a series of choices she made based on what mattered most to her at the time.
JC: As Lucy’s story is narrated around her relationship with Gabe, her role as mother doesn’t feature too prominently, is this a measure of how much Lucy’s life is defined by her first love?
JS: I think that the reason Lucy’s role as a mother isn’t featured prominently is because of who she’s telling this story to. Were she telling the story of her life to her children, then Gabe would play a smaller role than he does, and the anecdotes she shares about Darren would be different. I think it’s audience–Lucy’s audience–more than anything else that guided which parts of Lucy’s life were included in The Light We Lost.
JC: Without giving too much away about the ending, the finale is astonishing in many ways, how important was the ending in your mind and choosing which way to go?
JS: The ending was very important to me. As I said earlier, it wasn’t fixed until I started writing the book, but I always knew a few things about the ending, and pointed the novel in that direction once I started writing.
JC: How does it feel as an author to watch two characters who you’re hugely invested in go on such a journey and reach the conclusion they find themselves at?
JS: It was hard to bring Lucy and Gabe to the point I did at the end. In the US, I had the privilege of narrating the audiobook, and much to my embarrassment, I found myself crying as I was reading the second-to-last vignette aloud. But this was always the direction in which their story was going, so even though it made me sad, I knew this was what was going to happen to them.
JC: I thought the novel was a perfect entity in and of itself, but other readers have wondered whether there may be scope for a sequel, is that something that you could imagine at all?
JS: If you’d asked me about a sequel a year ago, I’d have said that I couldn’t imagine it. But in the intervening months, and with many early readers asking me about what happened to the characters after the end of The Light We Lost, I’ve been starting to think more about it. I have a feeling that it wouldn’t be Lucy’s story, though. Another character would take the lead.
JC: This is a novel that will make readers shed a tear or two (or many!) as well as to make them think and count their own blessings, how does it feel to be able to get readers engaged so emotionally with your story and your characters?
JS: I always feel a bit badly that I’ve made people cry, but I take a bit of pride in it, too, mostly because when I was drafting the book, I’d sent an early manuscript to my agent who said something to the effect of, “This book is sad, but it doesn’t make me cry. I need to cry.” So I went back and worked hard and revised a lot, so now when people say that The Light We Lost made them cry, it makes me smile inside because it means I was able to do what my agent had asked of me.
JC: What one message do you hope readers take from the novel?
JS: I hope readers come away from The Light We Lost thinking about the idea that life is uncertain and that if there’s something they want to do or somewhere they want to go, they should go for it; none of us know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so we should all make the most of today.
About the author
Jill Santopolo received an MFA in fiction writing, is the author of three successful children’s and young-adult series, and works as the editorial director of Philomel Books. An adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program, she travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City.
Main image of Jill © Charles Grantham
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo, published on 18 May, 2017 by HQ, in hardback
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