When Light Is Like Water
Molly McCloskey

Book cover image

Narrated By: Katie Beudert

Duration: 6 hours and 3 minutes

What to expect

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of When Light is Like Water by Molly McCloskey, read by Katie Beudert.

'There are few things on earth smaller than this country.'

Alice, a young American on her travels, arrives in the west of Ireland with no plans and no strong attachments - except to her beloved mother, who raised her on her own. She falls in love with an Irishman, marries him, and settles down in a place whose codes she struggles to crack. And then, in the course of a single hot summer, she embarks on an affair that breaks her marriage and sets her life on a new course.

Years later, in the aftermath of her mother's death, Alice finds herself back in Ireland and contemplating the forces that led her to put down roots and then tear them up again. What drew her to her husband, and what pulled her away? And how do we know when we've found our place in the world?

When Light is Like Water is at once a gripping story of passion and ambivalence and a profound meditation on the things that matter most: the definition of love, the value of family and the meaning of home.


Modern & contemporary fiction, Family life fiction, Narrative theme: Sense of place, Narrative theme: Interior life

Listen to a sample

This is a short but powerful novel about love - love for a mother, love for a husband, love for a lover. When Light Is Like Water will be read for many years to come for its wisdom and precision.

Edmund White

McCloskey has the observational eye of the outsider, able to pinpoint the intricacies and mannerisms of the Irish people and landscape. ... But the writing's the thing. Oh, the writing. McCloskey is the master of the metaphor, the doyenne of the deceptively simple sentence. ... Hers is a wondrous turn of phrase, and yet somehow it makes Alice's life and interiority seem all the more real

Sunday Business Post

Brilliant ... The author's ability to stir serendipity while steadily evoking atmosphere is remarkable ... McCloskey has a limpid, even liquid style: it's as if you were surreptitiously reading someone's chatty and extremely revealing letter ... Rest assured, When Light Is Like Water will feature on a few end-of-year lists


McCloskey's prose is lovely and light-filled

Sunday Express

Luminous ... As a narrator, Alice is a combination of coolness and intensity, passion and unsentimentality, nostalgia and clear-sightedness

Irish Times

A thoughtful meditation on connection set against the backdrop of a world on the move ... Though McCloskey has no shortage of ideas, she also engages the heart: she's particularly good on the contrariness of our desires ... Fans of Anne Enright will find much to admire and enjoy.

Daily Mail

McCloskey interrogates the universal need of finding our place in the world in this luminous novel about longing and belonging. ... McCloskey's slim novel has an emotional heft and power that stirs you long after you've closed its pages.

RTE Guide

A powerful and deeply affecting novel ... In writing that sparkles with intelligence and insight, the ordinary moments of everyday existence are charged with a beauty and tenderness that render them only just bearable

Mary Costello

McCloskey is a keen, sympathetic observer; her tight, controlled prose meticulously details Alice's honest consideration of her flaws and desires. The melancholic complexity of Alice's very human struggle carries this elegant novel with no easy answers.

Publishers Weekly

Molly McCloskey's prose has such immense authority, precision and seriousness. This shimmering, beautiful, restless work will stir recognitions without seeming to try. If you've ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't have fallen in love with - as who hasn't, once or twice - be prepared to encounter the novel as mirror, her finest book to date, a triumph.

Joseph O'Connor

A delightful fish-out-of-water account stitched together with gentle yet wondrous prose

Irish Independent Books of the Year

When Light is Like Water is as gripping as a memoir and as intimate as a poem. Molly McCloskey has written a novel that is both urgent and reflective, a tender and unsentimental exploration of love's dark corners. It is brilliant: her finest book yet.

Anne Enright

Adultery is often sentimentalised in fiction, but in her ferociously well written second novel Molly McCloskey gives it to us straight ... Each brilliant vignette offers a new angle on Alice's ballooning sense of disorientation ... In spite of its lyrical title and exquisite prose, When Light Is Like Water is a brutal examination of sextual self-delusion. But it also has much that's memorable to say about love - not the affair kind, but the real thing... McCloskey writes with shattering insight on loss and the way that it can make us feel tender towards the world


McCloskey writes with such care and craft; every description of the landscape of the west and the life of her captivating narrator is imbued with poetry and truth. When Light is Like Water is fresh and raw and completely entrancing.'

Sara Baume

Written with brilliant precision and insight

Sunday Business Post Books of the Year

Refreshing ... McCloskey is an expert storyteller

Sunday Times (UK)


Irish Examiner

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Calibri; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} Humane and lucid ... The real heartbreak in this wise, discomfiting novel turns out to be the love between mother and daughter

New York Times

McCloskey describes everything with a luminous exactitude ... It's entirely beguiling

Mail on Sunday

I loved When Light is Like Water. It is absorbing, tense, and beautifully written. Molly McCloskey has written a wonderful novel.

Roddy Doyle

Powerful ... When Light Is Like Water is a tender depiction of love and loss that combines the personal pull of a memoir with the precision of a short story ... McCloskey's novel is packed with wisdom, and never heavy-handed with it. The details of the affair and the tawdry aspect of forbidden desire are brilliantly related