The story of the decline of a Derbyshire mining village? It didn’t sound like a book that I would necessarily pick up, but I read some very positive reports, and so when I saw a copy in the library I gave Blackmoor a chance. I am so glad that I did.
When the story opens Vincent Cartwright is an awkward teenager . He lives with his father, George, a man who is awkward in a way that only adults can be, in the Derbyshire village of Church Eaton.
But their roots aren’t there. Their roots are some miles away in Blackmoor, an abandoned mining village. But George won’t talk about Blackmoor and what happened there. How did Beth, George’s wife and Vincent’s mother, die? Why was the village abandoned?
Those questions are answered by storylines in two time-frames.
In the present Vincent, enouraged by his schoolfriend Leila, begins an investigation in the guise of a joint school prject about the deserted village.
And in the past Beth’s own story unravels. Beth was albino, her skin a ghostly white and her eyes plagued by tremors. She suffered from severe post-natal depression after Vincent’s birth. Her unusual appearance and her unconventional behaviour, led the villagers of Blackmoor to shun her.
When the village was affected by “firedamp” – explosive emissions of methane from abandoned pit shafts – the villagers blamed Beth.
Was she a witch? Did she curse the villagers who made her an outcast? Or was she an intelligent but troubled woman, unafraid to speak her mind?
What happens is inevitable and it is heart-breaking.
Blackmoor is an exceptional debut novel – and certainly a worthy winner of the Desmond Elliot Prize for new fiction.
Edward Hogan writes wonderful, evocative prose and his story never loses its grip.
His characters are diverse, complicated and eminently believable. Their interactions, and the communities that they form always ring true. As does the world where they live.
Blackmoor is not without its flaws, but they are few and it’s many strengths definitely carry the day.
It’s a remarkable debut, and I am intrigued to see what Edward Hogan may write next.