Blackmoor by Edward Hogan
|Blackmoor by Edward Hogan|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A brilliant evocation of a strange place in strange times, and the very strange people that live there, considering a young child, his violent father and what made his mother die.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: March 2009|
|Publisher: Pocket Books|
We first meet Vincent watching his father George lamp a passing cyclist. Is there anything that could have caused such casual self-justified violence? Perhaps it pertains to a certain ghost put to rest – or not – in the now demolished village of Blackmoor – the ghostly albino form of George's wife, Beth, who followed her son Vincent out their second-floor window.
Her albinism is not the only unusual thing about Beth we discover in the extended flashbacks that follow this opening. She has individual looks through her home-made clothes also, has very anti-social food cravings through her pregnancy, and more. By the time we factor in that she was born on February 29th and a lot more besides, we might begin to think there is too much disturbing detail about her here. But this book handles that very well.
Beth is not the only thing here designed to unsettle, either. Witness the several sudden splashes into the second person, or instructional tense. And by the time we become to know more about Blackmoor, the Derbyshire mining village – and know it we do to such an extent it might be called the most important character – we see that Beth is just a drop in the ocean.
Where else would her garden lawn scorch people's feet? Where else would halves of houses suddenly be exploded half across the village? The singular nature of Blackmoor, as a village we are told is destined to disappear when the mining community is killed off by Mrs Thatcher's 1980s, shows this is a fantastical place. Unfortunately for Beth, the locals seem to consider her more of a threat.
All this might then come across as background to some horrid sitcom of the absurd, but not here. Edward Hogan has nailed the characters he has put here, and however much research he had to do to provide Blackmoor's recent history, or get under the skin of Beth's post-natal depression, it never shows. Vincent too is a marvellous creation – slug-loving, silently suffering his bullying at school, and forming a friendship with a nearby girl that results in him silently trying to control his arm, wayward since his said trip through window.
He is a fan of birdlife too, and the one-step-from magical realism style, and strong plotting of the unusual, both force me to say this happens a lot further from the world of A Kestrel for a Knave that would at first appear the case.
For a first novel the style of this book is superlative – wafting from present to various stages of the past, and providing a jigsaw puzzle of elements provided by the characters, the plots and the setting that add up to something most singular.
Trust me, I don't like novels that are too poetic, or too out there. This remains a mood piece to some extent, but has so much going for it in evoking people and place that I can only recommend this to all.
We at the Bookbag must thank Pocket Books for our review copy.
For a different village suffering an unusual outsider badly, we can also recommend Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel, while this book shares a look at the odd with the stories in The White Road by Tania Hershman.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Blackmoor by Edward Hogan at Amazon.com.
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