Saturday, October 9, 2010
Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore
Zennor in Darkness is Helen Dunmore's first novel for adults, however she is also very prolific with children's novels. All of Dunmore's books are shockingly descriptive, and even this adjective lacks justice -- obviously she has had the gift to write so well since day one because Zennor in Darkness is truly incredible from an intimacy standpoint and is beautifully written.
The novel is set in England during WWI along the coast of Cornwall. Those infamous U-boats are prevalent and us readers are faced with the impending doom of this region's war days to come.
We are introduced to Clare Coyne, a beautiful young woman who lives alone with her father and is close with nearby family, including her beloved cousin John William, whom just happens to be visiting home while on leave from the violent trenches. Adding spice to this ensemble is the character of author D.H. Lawrence and his bold German wife Frida, both of whom have settled in the village.
Basically, Zennor in Darkness is about Clare's interaction with her family, D.H. Lawrence, and all the other drama that goes hand in hand with war -- and coming of age.
As often expected with these types of novels, we read about Clare's coming-of-age as a young woman as she is introduced to love, violence, sex, friendships, humanity, and various bohemian arts. You may shrug and roll your eyes at this because after all, aren't all coming-of-age novels practically the same?! But...Dunmore is always magnificent because her characters are so vulnerable and just HUMAN. We read the inner monologues of many characters but mainly Clare, and it's these private thoughts that really hold heavy on our hearts. Awwwww....you may say, but it's entirely true. For those of us who have never felt the impacts of war during our lifetime, Zennor in Darkness is jarring, scary, and really makes you put the book down to run and kiss your loved ones. The novel really makes you appreciate life.
Another admirable trait of Helen Dunmore is that she makes her literature into art. I bet she doesn't consciously do this because you can tell by the way she writes -- I just love how she throws in new vocabulary words in the least intimidating way possible. It's simply beautiful and leaves me awestruck.
My only gripe about Zennor in Darkness is the cliche at the end. Of course I'm not going to provide spoilers but think about it...what befalls beautiful and naive young girls new to love and sex? Hmmmmm...
Helen Dunmore is underrated and NOT to be missed! I knew there was a reason I added her entire bibliography to my wish list months ago.
I highly recommend Talking to the Dead (1996) in addition to Zennor in Darkness. I've yet to read all her other novels, so stay tuned! Newer titles include The Betrayal (2010), Counting the Stars (2008), and House of Orphans (2006).
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