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By Joan Thomas

“Most first-time novelists strain for the gold ring; Joan Thomas grabs it effortlessly in this wonderful book.”
Quill & Quire (starred review)


Thomas_Reading By Lightning

Reading By Lightning, Joan Thomas’s first novel, is set in England and in a God-fearing Canadian prairie town during the years leading up to World War II.

Lily Piper and her family live in an ephemeral world, due to collapse at any moment when the Lord comes to pluck the faithful from the drought-ravaged prairies. Lily tries to be ready for the coming Day of Judgment, but she’s restless and imaginative, not the daughter she feels her mother wants. The focus of her longing is her silent father, who immigrated to Canada with a British Utopian movement, and seems to Lily to be living proof that other realities exist.

When the Lord still hasn’t come by the time puberty hits, Lily is sent to England to live with her father’s relatives and goes about the project of inventing herself. She falls in love with her adopted cousin, George, surrenders her notions of goodness, and waits with the rest of England for World War II to start, until circumstances call her home to face a future she thought she had escaped.

Reading By Lightning observes the emerging of a personality in the face of intruding ideologies. Thomas’s prose is elegant, devastating, funny, confiding and wry; her engrossing story of Lily Piper tells us something about how we make sense of the future when the future is something we can hardly imagine.


“Reading by Lightning is a stunning…novel, vast in its description of a family eking out a living in the dust and mud of a Manitoba homestead…This novel has an interesting plot and is also wonderfully literary…We are fortunate to welcome this new voice and hope that Thomas will enjoy a long novel-writing career.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“…carefully considered, troubled, alert to the texture of experience…thoughtful writing that makes the world seem strange.”
Globe and Mail


Goose Lane Editions, Canada, Fall 2008


Globe 100 Best Book, 2008

Winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book

Shortlisted for three Manitoba Book Awards: the McNally Robinson Book of the Year, the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book

Winner of the First Novel Award

Longlisted for the 2010 IMPAC Award

Other Books by Joan Thomas