Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

This is a beautiful book, full of a sense of old magic muddled brilliantly into the mundane of the present.

Though the book’s title is the name of an old mining town, a close-nit community hit hard by the collapse of the coal industry and eventually forced to relocate due to the unstable nature of the land beneath it, the story is also about George, Beth and their son, Vincent.

Vincent lost his mother when she jumped to her death, leaping out of the first floor window after her toddling son who bounced too high on the bed and fell into the outside flowerpot. He was unharmed, but Beth jumped after him and landed on the concrete pavement. Beth is an albino with the characteristic white hair and pale skin, and the eyes that see little and judder backwards and forwards so that she focusses best when looking at things sideways.

Beth has severe postnatal depression upon the arrival of Vincent and that, coupled with the stigma of her appearance and the problems of the village, lead to all sorts of assumptions being made about her powers and her state of mind.

George hasn’t told Vincent about his past, but when Vincent starts a school English project on Blackmoor with his first ever real friend there is a sense that his ignorance will be short-lived. What effect will that have on him? How will thinking about the past change his angry, brooding father?

Not only is the story compelling, it is beautifully told. At one point Beth remarks, to their local councillor, that ‘It’s a bit like a bible story all this, intit?’ and it is this mixture of the humdrum and the grand, the panoramic and the portrait that makes Blackmoor a beautiful work. Though this mixture is complex and undoubtedly built with extreme effort and care, it feels seamless as you read the story, it feels like a necessary and essential part of the weave. Indeed, the fact that Beth makes and customises her own clothes only feeds the idea of these older stories, myths and legends working beneath the modern one.

I’d not read any Edward Hogan before, but I will certainly try and read more of his work. Next week I’m reading The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola.