That Dark Remembered Day

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That Dark Remembered Day , Tom Vowler, book reviewAround six months ago, I read Tom Vowler’s debut novel What Lies Within and was underwhelmed to say the least. While it showed great promise in the writing, the story itself failed to deliver what was promised and it fizzled out before reaching the satisfying conclusion that the quality of the prose deserved. It was therefore with a sense of disappointment that I saw I had been sent a review copy of Vowler’s second book, That Dark Remembered Day – what if this was another damp squib sent to frustrate me? Fortunately, in the intervening months Vowler seems to have developed quite remarkably as a writer, and this novel is in an altogether higher league that his first offering.

Stephen is a middle-aged son returning to the small town he grew up in to visit his ailing mother, Mary. He isn’t close to her and hasn’t visited in some considerable time, only being drawn this time because a neighbour has called him to express concerns about her health. As he travels north from his home in Cornwall, we learn that this reluctance stems from some unnamed event in their past, something clearly traumatic that happened thirty years previously that has left him experiencing outbursts of uncontrollable anger that threaten his job, and left her living alone is a dark, damp cottage as an apparent penance for her part in this mysterious event. Neither seems that happy about seeing the other.

It is only when the narrative takes us back those thirty years that we start to build up a sense of what has caused Stephen and Mary this discomfort and begin to understand them. It is 1982 and the family has recently moved to Highfield, a ramshackle old house on a hill overlooking the town, with a view to renovating it and setting up their own business. Mary makes plans for converting outbuildings into tourist accommodation, for turning the overgrown garden into a productive source of food and for making themselves as self-sufficient as possible. She dreams of leaving her job as a nurse and for her husband Richard to leave his hated army post to begin this new life together. But then events on a handful of obscure South Atlantic islands force Richard to take one last posting, and a chain of events is started that will mean their lives will soon never be the same again.

That Dark Remembered Day addresses the same broad themes as Vowler’s first novel – family, trust and past emotional traumas – and in the same style, with past and present narratives gradually knitting together over the course of the book. In this new novel, however, the effect works far better. Perhaps it was the plot itself being stronger, perhaps because we didn’t know what exactly the event was (though we had an inkling) until right near the end, so the reader is compelled to keep going to find out if their suspicions were right. Either way, it packs quite a punch when we finally get to the big reveal.

While the standard of the prose was again high, I think Vowler’s real strength is in his characterisation. In my last review I recall commenting on how good he is at writing from a woman’s perspective, and it is also true here. For me, it was Mary who came across the strongest out of all the characters, who I felt most empathy with and whose motivation and sense of loss was the most convincing. Although not the psychological thriller it appears to be marketed as, it is a satisfying read that is worth picking up and certainly the Tom Vowler novel you should go for if you are new to this author.
Recommended.

That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler
Published by Headline, March 2013
With thanks to the publisher for providing me with this review copy.


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That Dark Remembered Day
by Tom Vowler

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Written by collingwood21
collingwood21

Collingwood21 is a 32 year old university administrator and ex-pat northerner living down south. Married. Over-educated. Loves books, history, archaeology and writing.

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