> Skip to content
  • Published: 22 January 2019
  • ISBN: 9781784708375
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $35.00

Six Facets Of Light

'She's a genius, I believe, because she lights up every subject she touches.' Hilary Mantel

A Spectator Book of the Year

Meditations on the mystery of light

'She's a genius, I believe, because she lights up every subject she touches.' Hilary Mantel

A Spectator Book of the Year

Goethe claimed to know what light was. Galileo and Einstein both confessed they didn't. On the essential nature of light, and how it operates, the scientific jury is still out. There is still time, therefore, to listen to painters and poets on the subject. They, after all, spend their lives pursuing light and trying to tie it down.

Six Facets of Light is a series of meditations on this most elusive and alluring feature of human life. Set mostly on the Downs and coastline of East Sussex, the most luminous part of England, it interweaves a walker's experiences of light in Nature with the observations, jottings and thoughts of a dozen writers and painters - and some scientists - who have wrestled to define and understand light. From Hopkins to Turner, Coleridge to Whitman, Fra Angelico to Newton, Ravilious to Dante, the mystery of light is teased out and pondered on. Some of the results are surprising.

By using mostly notebooks and sketchbooks, this book becomes a portrait of the transitoriness, randomness, swiftness, frustrations and quicksilver beauty that are the essence of light. It is a work to be enjoyed, pondered over, engaged with, provoked by; to be packed in the rucksack of every walker heading for the sea or the hills, or to be opened to bring that outside radiance within four dark town walls.

  • Published: 22 January 2019
  • ISBN: 9781784708375
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $35.00

About the author

Ann Wroe

Ann Wroe is the Briefings and Obituaries editor of The Economist. She is the author of seven previous works of non-fiction, including Pilate: The Biography of an Invented Man, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Award and the W.H. Smith Award. She lives in north London.

Also by Ann Wroe

See all

Praise for Six Facets Of Light

She is a stylist with a wide-ranging and subtle mind. She’s a genius, I believe, because she lights up every subject she touches. Why [ is she] underrated? She is personally modest, and her work doesn’t fit into a category. She is too original for the market.

Hilary Mantel

This is a wonderful book, and almost not a book at all, more a window into another mind… It is a gift Wroe shares. She registers commonplace things with poetic intensity… A rich, radiant ramble… More, please. Yet if she had written an autobiography it would almost inevitably have followed a standard pattern, wheras Six Facets of Light is unprecedented, unpredictable and unforgettable.

John Carey, Sunday Times

Ann Wroe is a versatile and adventurous writer, and Six Facets of Light is as delightful as it is unexpected. Here the world's most mysterious medium has found its most passionate hymnist.

John Banville

You get a sense that Ann Wroe took great delight in writing this book… It takes an emphatically personal approach… Wroe’s quicksilver prose brings her meditations to glinting life. The attuned eye of the naturalist combines with the poet’s sharpened sensitivity in descriptions as intricately detailed as they are idiosyncratically evocative… As far as this reviewer is concerned, it put the light in delight.

Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

[It] lays the writer bare and offers up a host of treasures, some of which will resonate and stick and become part of the reader’s own armoury of images and anecdotes… There are some wonderful pickings in this allusive, largely Christo-centric book.

Honor Clerk, Spectator

A wonderful series of lyrical and luminous meditations on the mysteries of light.

The Bookseller

[It is] deeply researched and richly peopled… A pleasurably rhapsodic investigation… Wroe’s finely wrought prose slips past so hypnotically that its meaning is not fully revealed. Lulled by its lovely rhythms and glancing impressions… This is hardly a chore, for this is surely a book to return to, its mysteries likely to reward those willing to give it the time it deserves.

Melissa Harrison, Sunday Telegraph

The effects of Rowe’s writings are rare, beautiful and elusive – like dust suspended in sunlight.

Laura Freeman, Mail on Sunday

A superb, intensely poetic collection of essays.

Sunday Times

Wroe has become a daredevil writer… Light of myriad types may blaze in the mind’s eye of the reader…elegantly produced, lightly illustrated volume… Wroe’s style here is rhapsodic and meditative.

Stoddard Martin, Literary Review

A passionate and meandering love letter to a natural phenomenonSix Facets of Light reads as if you are in Wroe's mind, listening to her mosey from her own astute observations to celebrations of light by famous names. The pace of the narrative is just like going on a long, rambling walk on the South Downs Way in summer, making it a book best enjoyed at your leisure in the great outdoors.

Mary Ann Pickford, Irish News

[A] remarkable new book… Felicities of phrasing and cadence on every page…each of the six chapters offers something of the taut coherence and closeness of the structure of musical variation.

Peter Davidson, Tablet

[A] remarkable new book… A love song to light… Ann Wroe is perfectly equipped to deal with this rich mix.

Piers Plowright, Camden Review

A unique voice in nonfictionSix Facets of Light exists in a world of quivering immanence.

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

She switches from thoughts about an English lane to Coleridge, Thoreau, Samuel Palmer, larks, ragwort and Ravilious’s taste in poetry, in effortless and beguiling succession.

Royal Academy

A wide-ranging and imaginative work of non-fiction… Never less than engaging.

Erica Wagner, New Statesman

Six Facets of Light is dazzlingly original.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Guardian

Six Facets of Light is a book that is making me look and think more closely, and closer again. In its own way this feels like a hymn of praise, a thanksgiving and a celebration of something replete with mystery… Slowly the shackles of modern scientific thought and progress and theory slip away and I find myself observing light as if I have only just realised it existed. How clever a book has to be to achieve that.

Dove Grey Reader

A genre-crossing consideration of what light has meant to writers, painters and lovers of landscape.


Inspiring, beautifully written.

Sunday Times

An exquisitely written study of light in the works of various poets and painters.

Daily Telegraph

A wonderful literary meditation… This book is suffused with vivid personal memory and precise, delicate observation of Nature. Wroe’s feeling for landscape is both sensitive and acute; her style is lyrical and precise.

Hugo Davenport, Resurgence and Ecologist

A book for winter.

Honor Clerk, Spectator, Books of the Year

People of faith talk a great deal about light, and we would do well to learn more about it from Wroe’s quick-eyed love of it.

Mark Oakley, Church Times

Wroe passes her elusive subject, light itself, through the prism of her dazzlingly well-read mind, and the resulting rainbows fairly dance across the page… An utterly original book that will leave you, in every sense of the word, enlightened.

Claire Lowdon, Sunday Times, Book of the Year

Ann Wroe’s Six Facets of Light is a fascinating and original meditation [on light]. Six Facets of Light is an exquisite collage of relations, a prose poem to “what escaped” absolutely everyone – and to how madly, brilliantly, they tried to “be in step”.

Joanna Kavenna, Times Literary Supplement

Related titles