The book’s title also evokes Plato’s vision of a just society. As public opinion turns against the children, officials consider lowering the age of imprisonable offence to thirteen, with special detention centres set up for any younger child with no known guardian. We know the story’s tragic outcome from the novel’s first sentence, which tells us that thirty-two children will lose their lives. And yet Barba’s denouement still grips with the power of a thriller. After the adults discover the children’s hideout – a luminous republic – all they can do is try to come to terms with the darkness coursing through themselves.
As a parable of the loss of faith in the “religion of childhood” and the fetish of childish innocence, A Luminous Republic would be satisfying enough. But Barba also manages to conjure a denouement (faint intimations of which are seeded throughout the book) that the novelist Edmund White describes in his foreword, with some justification, as “transcendent and beautiful”.