Zennor in Darkness – Helen Dunmore

This story is set in 1917, the war is ravaging across the water in France but in a part of Cornwall, the effects of it are far-reaching. Many young men have not come back, their bodies buried where they lay. Some are lucky, like John William who have survived and been commissioned to be an officer, return back but with darkness in their souls from what they have seen.

There are others Lawrence and Frieda. Lawrence cannot go to war due to ill health but their marriage causes upset amongst the locals; she left her husband and gave up her children to be with the man she loves, but worse than that she is German and related to Baron Richthofen. Suddenly where you come from is very important in Zennor.

Cornwall cannot hide them any longer as rumours are rife that by purely hanging out the washing she is using this as a signal to passing  German U-Boats. But there are some locals who do not seem to treat them as an interest to be avoided, a couple with a differing view of the world and the insular life of Cornwall. One of those is Clare Coyne who is a young girl, looking after her widowed father, struggling to make ends meet with no money and a lack of food as well as trying to live her own life.  When her cousin John William returns prior to taking up his commission life changes forever and the effects of war are felt most keenly by all around.

I really struggled with this book, something which actually surprised me as this is a typical book I would like. I cannot deny that the writing is excellent, and it is a book which needs to be savoured as the passages are highly descriptive of the area of Cornwall, as is the flora and fauna. Dunmore has also handled the experiences and descriptions of war well and I felt moved by what was written and for that the book has its place. But for me it was the characters which let the book down. I felt there was too many popping up in the book and seemed unnecessary, for example Clare’s friend Peggy, what was the point of her? It meant that I could not really focus on  the story at all as it jumped from one person to the other and the narrative jarred.

There is the use of real life people; Lawrence is actually the controversial writer D.H. Lawrence was an interesting tool but one that did not really come off for me. Their presence could have warranted a novel all of its own.

I was disappointed with this read, but I am sure and I know others have enjoyed the book mine is just one opinion.

I was really interested in the fact that D.H. Lawrence featured in this novel and I did not know much about him other than he wrote Sons and Lovers and the then Sixties controversial trial Lady Chatterley’s Lover. However this book piqued an interest in the background of him and Frieda and went off to read more. From the little bit I picked up on Wikipedia – well you have to start somewhere I suppose I was quite fascinated. I have never read any of his novels and perhaps I might have to venture this way at some point in my reading journey. 

I have read some lovely reviews of this book, I would like to hope that mine is middle of the road and perhaps I was not focused on this book than I needed to be? It just did not grab me and draw me in enough. That said it would not stop me reading any other books by Helen Dunmore. 

Why when a book grabs many others and not us do we feel guilty of even writing a review in case we offend. This was one of the reasons that it seems this blog had suddenly gone quiet for a while!