Eight Bright Lights
By Sara Gibbs
Reviewed by Keren David
Stuck for a last-minute Chanukah gift? Sara Gibbs has written the perfect present – a heart-warming tale of three young women’s quests for happiness, which is as Jewish as a chanukiah full of candles, and as sweet as a jam-filled doughnut.
Hannah is the Devon-bred troubled daughter of a Jewish publican mum and a very absent father, the famous Israeli photographer Oren Weiss, who becomes permanently absent when he dies. That means Hannah has to go to Tel Aviv for the funeral and shiva, and learn from her gorgeous Air BnB host Lior – “the single most beautiful man I’ve ever seen” – why it’s not so great to comment, “I expected it to be more Apartheid-y”, when asked for her first impressions of Tel Aviv.
Then there’s her cousin Rachel, who works for a Jewish newspaper – not the JC alas but the Daily Star of David, “a niche left-wing Jewish newspaper that’s barely staying afloat”. Rachel is about to get married to lovely non-Jewish fiancé Chris, despite her family’s attempts to scare him off with circumcision jokes, and is desperate to get a job as a feature writer for Voglio magazine, which she rates because they ran an empowering body positivity issue which made her feel seen and celebrated. But to get the job she has to reunite her grandma with her lost first love, David – the feature idea she came up with under pressure in her interview (In all future JC job interviews I will demand that the candidate tackle a tricky family secret)
Next Rachel and Chris’s wedding is threatened, thanks to a spat between wedding planners Corrine and her erstwhile assistant Ella, our third Jewish heroine. Corrine is a magnificent comic monster, who rules the world of simchahs despite sneering at her clients’ tastes and refusing to give them the parties they desire, which seemed a strange way to achieve market domination to me, but never mind, I was cheering Ella on as she walked out on Corrine and set out to give Rachel the wedding of her dreams, despite a distinct lack of suppliers, all cowed by Corinne.
All of these plotlines could have had my head spinning like a dreidel – and there’s a cast of thousands too, including Ella’s delightful girlfriend Georgie and her nasty sister Martha, and Hannah’s mum and her new family in Tel Aviv, and Lior’s family…There’s also a lot to chew on about Jewishness, about Israel, about families and autism (the subject of Gibbs’ 2021 memoir Drama Queen) and more. It’s all done with a very readable light touch, so you never get lost or in the slightest bit bored.
This is the kind of fun Jewish rep we need, that doesn’t often show up in British women’s fiction (Amber Crewe’s That Jewish Thing is the only recent example I can think of). More please!