by Edward Hogan
BLACKMOOR is the accomplished debut novel of Edward Hogan, who was recently shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer's prize. At the story's heart is a troubled young couple, Beth and George Cartwright, both “in their separate ways … outcasts” from the narrow-minded mining community of Blackmoor in 1990s Derbyshire. George is isolated for being cleverer than his contemporaries, and for having chosen life behind a desk rather than down the doomed local pit; Beth is even lonelier, for not only does she look different – an albino, and near-blind – but her always unusual behaviour takes a more sinister turn after the birth of their first child. As BLACKMOOR opens, George is living alone with Vincent, Beth having died in mysterious circumstances more than a decade before.
The novel unravels Beth and George’s interwoven tragedies, set against the background of the unhappy, disintegrating village, which is menaced by the enduring legacy of the mine’s closure. Its second strand is Vincent’s stumbling journey, ten years later, toward his own first love affair, and the truth about Blackmoor and his mother’s death. BLACKMOOR has a strong sense of place, and Hogan’s adept use of imagery (Blackmoor is “a tumour of grey roof tiles”; sweat spreads across Beth’s back “in the shape of a hammerhead shark”) creates a sense of growing foreboding as the story progresses. Yet the author also has a wonderfully light touch in episodes of sly humour, particularly in a number of poignant episodes that centre on Vincent. This is an involving, strangely touching novel, which tells its complex story simply and well, and whose atmosphere and characters stayed with me long after I turned the final page.