Despite the cliché, I bet everyone has judged a book by its cover at some point in their lives. I certainly have. Unless it is a book which has been recommended to me or I’m looking for a specific author, I shamelessly judge books by their covers. My eyes scan the shelves, looking for a book which will jump out at me. Then my fingers slowly reach out and peel the spine away from the shelf, so I can glance at the blurb. If I’m still intrigued by then, I’ll read the first line and then possibly buy the book.

There is nothing wrong with the cover of Joanne Horniman’s novel My Candlelight Novel, but when I saw the cover my expectation was that it would be a book about a teenage girl, with aspirations of being a writer, something fairly typical of a YA book. Yet when I actually started reading, my expectations were immediately subverted. The protagonist is not a teenager. She is 21. The book is not a superficial read of a teenager’s tough time at high school, but the enchanting story of Sophie, who is methodically sorting through what her life was, what it is, and what it will become.

The book is set in Lismore, NSW, and Horniman’s vivid descriptions of the town immerse the reader in this languid tale. In the prologue, the reader is given a warning: ‘So this is my story. It will be about birth and death and love and sex, and I will tell it very quiet and slow, so if you want big bangs of action and excitement it’s best you stop reading right now.’ Don’t mistake this absence of action for absence of an enthralling narrative. I almost finished the book in one sitting because I was so reluctant to put it down.

My Candlelight Novel is a beautifully engaging read, questioning and, finally accepting, all life’s twists and turns. It is also serves as a stark reminder to never judge a book by its cover.

My Candlelight Novel

Allen & Unwin, 2008