Wednesday, September 30, 2015

In the Dark by Deborah Moggach

At the risk of a weak pun, Deborah Moggach's In the Dark is a darker story about the owner and people of a boarding house in WWI London than her other two books about tenants and owners, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Heartbreak Hotel. They are more lighthearted and this book is more serious and tense. In the Dark is scheduled to be published in a hardback edition in the U.S. in November 2015. It actually was first published in an international paperback edition in 2007-08.

In this story the realities, consequences and naive concepts about the war are woven into the lives of the characters in subtle and stark ways. The war is an ever present element, either in the background or coming darkly forward. The main character, a war widowed mother of an adolescent boy, runs a boarding house for a collection of aging and injured people on the margins of life, each with some sort of handicap or loss. The story follows Eithne Clay as she tries to hold together her life and theirs by providing shelter and food for them, as well as income for herself and her son, with very little resources. Seeming good fortune comes her way in a raw, passion-filled marriage to the local butcher.

How this all unfolds reads like a script for an old Alfred Hitchcock TV show episode. There are a few Hitchcock-like twists, partly dark yet with ironic hope. Moggach has a sensitivity toward the emotional and personal stresses of life reflected in her characters and their difficulties, even if they play only a minor off-focus role. The butcher, Neville Turk, however, seems a little stilted and mechanical.

The title applies in a multitude of ways. Characters, soldiers, lovers, armies are each, literally and figuratively, in the dark, clueless at some time or another. Unfortunately the story seemed a little rushed in the wrap-up push to the conclusion of the book which comes at the close of the war.

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