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Zennor in Darkness: From the Women’s Prize-Winning Author of A Spell of Winter

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In her prize-winning first novel, Zennor in Darkness, Helen Dunmore reimagines the plight of D.H. Lawrence and his German wife hiding out in Cornwall during the First World War. Spring, 1917, and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories. Into this turmoil co In her prize-winning first novel, Zennor in Darkness, Helen Dunmore reimagines the plight of D.H. Lawrence and his German wife hiding out in Cornwall during the First World War. Spring, 1917, and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories. Into this turmoil come D. H Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda hoping to escape the war-fever that grips London. They befriend Clare Coyne, a young artist struggling to console her beloved cousin, John William, who is on leave from the trenches and suffering from shell-shock. Yet the dark tide of gossip and innuendo means that Zennor is neither a place of recovery nor of escape . . . 'Helen Dunmore mesmerizes you with her magical pen' Daily Mail 'A beautiful and inspired novel' John le Carré 'Secrets, unspoken words, lies that have the truth wrapped up in them somewhere make Dunmore's stories ripple with menace and suspense' Sunday Times Helen Dunmore has published eleven novels with Penguin: Zennor in Darkness, which won the McKitterick Prize; Burning Bright; A Spell of Winter, which won the Orange Prize; Talking to the Dead; Your Blue-Eyed Boy; With Your Crooked Heart; The Siege, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2002; Mourning Ruby; House of Orphans; Counting the Stars and The Betrayal , which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010. She is also a poet, children's novelist and short-story writer.


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In her prize-winning first novel, Zennor in Darkness, Helen Dunmore reimagines the plight of D.H. Lawrence and his German wife hiding out in Cornwall during the First World War. Spring, 1917, and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories. Into this turmoil co In her prize-winning first novel, Zennor in Darkness, Helen Dunmore reimagines the plight of D.H. Lawrence and his German wife hiding out in Cornwall during the First World War. Spring, 1917, and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories. Into this turmoil come D. H Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda hoping to escape the war-fever that grips London. They befriend Clare Coyne, a young artist struggling to console her beloved cousin, John William, who is on leave from the trenches and suffering from shell-shock. Yet the dark tide of gossip and innuendo means that Zennor is neither a place of recovery nor of escape . . . 'Helen Dunmore mesmerizes you with her magical pen' Daily Mail 'A beautiful and inspired novel' John le Carré 'Secrets, unspoken words, lies that have the truth wrapped up in them somewhere make Dunmore's stories ripple with menace and suspense' Sunday Times Helen Dunmore has published eleven novels with Penguin: Zennor in Darkness, which won the McKitterick Prize; Burning Bright; A Spell of Winter, which won the Orange Prize; Talking to the Dead; Your Blue-Eyed Boy; With Your Crooked Heart; The Siege, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2002; Mourning Ruby; House of Orphans; Counting the Stars and The Betrayal , which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010. She is also a poet, children's novelist and short-story writer.

30 review for Zennor in Darkness: From the Women’s Prize-Winning Author of A Spell of Winter

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    I love Helen Dunmore's writing, and as illustrated here in her first novel, it is lyrical and poetic. Set in Cornwall and the small coastal village of Zennor during WW1. It depicts at second hand the impact and repercussions of war, the loss and trauma of the young men, the paranoia, rumours and gossip run rife over the presence of the outsiders. DH Lawrence, now a pariah with his anti-war stance, his latest book rejected, and his German wife, Frieda, have escaped here because its cheap, but the I love Helen Dunmore's writing, and as illustrated here in her first novel, it is lyrical and poetic. Set in Cornwall and the small coastal village of Zennor during WW1. It depicts at second hand the impact and repercussions of war, the loss and trauma of the young men, the paranoia, rumours and gossip run rife over the presence of the outsiders. DH Lawrence, now a pariah with his anti-war stance, his latest book rejected, and his German wife, Frieda, have escaped here because its cheap, but the small minded locals are never going to accept them, viewing them with suspicion, spying on them, with a plethora of wildly ridiculous allegations until the couple are hounded out. The relationship that develops between Lawrence and budding local young artist and illustrator, Clare Coyne, living with her widower father is received with hostility. A Clare that is in love with her cousin John William, a traumatised soldier. A beautiful and atmospheric read that I recommend highly.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Zennor in Darkness is about the effect WW1 has on a small rural community on the Cornish coast. At the heart of the novel is the relationship between two cousins, Clare and the shell-shocked John William. It deploys a lot of flashback to recreate their relationship as children. I found it a rather uneven novel, brilliant and thoroughly engaging in parts but a little overly ambitious and even pretentious in others (it was Helen Dunmore's first novel). DH Lawrence and his wife Frieda are character Zennor in Darkness is about the effect WW1 has on a small rural community on the Cornish coast. At the heart of the novel is the relationship between two cousins, Clare and the shell-shocked John William. It deploys a lot of flashback to recreate their relationship as children. I found it a rather uneven novel, brilliant and thoroughly engaging in parts but a little overly ambitious and even pretentious in others (it was Helen Dunmore's first novel). DH Lawrence and his wife Frieda are characters in the story and though it was enjoyable reading about them their presence seemed rather gratuitous. We're told local residents are suspicious of them because Frieda is German but all the novel's characters , except one token nasty clergyman, are shown to be essentially good people so this hostility towards the Lawrences never has any dramatic representation in the novel. It's a bit of real history tacked on to a fictional story without much purpose. I thought Dunmore could have been less generous with some of her characters. If there's ignorant bigotry afoot show it, make it a force in the narrative. Instead she seemed intent on creating a romantically nostalgic vision of early 20th century pastoral life. What was most impressive was the writing itself which has made me eager to read her later work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    In December 1915, DH Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda, moved to Zennor, Cornwall. His novel, The Rainbow had recently been banned in the UK for obscenity. This novel isn’t just about Lawrence though. It’s a beautifully imagined portrait of community life in south Cornwall during World War I. The main character is Clare Coyne. She lives in St Ives with her father who married a Cornish woman well below his status but they had made St Ives their home. She died when Clare was very young and so sh In December 1915, DH Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda, moved to Zennor, Cornwall. His novel, The Rainbow had recently been banned in the UK for obscenity. This novel isn’t just about Lawrence though. It’s a beautifully imagined portrait of community life in south Cornwall during World War I. The main character is Clare Coyne. She lives in St Ives with her father who married a Cornish woman well below his status but they had made St Ives their home. She died when Clare was very young and so she was brought up partly by her father and partly by her mother’s family. She was schooled differently and spoke differently although she could lapse into the local dialect at will. Her cousins were her closest friends and she fell in love with one of them, John William, as she grew older. Clare meets Lawrence on the cliffs one day and draws his portrait. They develop a friendship and she visits him and Frieda in their cottage in Zennor, a 6 mile walk from St Ives. Sadly, Lawrence and Frieda were the objects of much suspicion. He for his anti war stance and she for being German. It was rumoured that they hung their washing out in a particular sequence to send messages to U boats! Within two years, they were evicted from Cornwall under the Defence of the Realm Act. The title refers to the small-mindedness of those in the the local community who hold the Lawrences in deep suspicion and to the Rector’s low opinion of himself and his flock. ‘Their eyes are clouded by sin’, he writes. ‘Our minds are dark and wretched, but even in our darkness we struggle to turn towards the glorious light of our Redeemer.’ He, together with many locals, suspected Clare of having an affair with Lawrence simply by reading too much into what they were seeing. It also refers to the darkness of World War I, seen from the perspective of those at home who can only imagine the horrors of the Western Front, of families losing sons, brothers, fathers, of soldiers on leave, of those waiting - fearing - to be conscripted, and from Lawrence’s pacifist stance. I’ve spent time in Cornwall in the past and Dunmore’s masterful descriptions of the land and seascape sent me straight back there. Every time I put the book down, I couldn’t wait to lose myself back in it. I loved the way we moved seamlessly from the thoughts of one person to another. It’s a thoughtful book, interesting from a historical perspective, and a very good story. 4.5 stars. So nearly 5. PS Michael Morpurgo owned the cottage that the Lawrences lived in for a number of years, only selling it last year. I read that Frieda always suspected Lawrence of homosexuality and there were rumours that he had an affair with a farmer in Zennor. Clare is a fictional character but the farmer, William Henry, appears in this novel.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Antoinette

    This was one of those books that I was dying to read because it takes place in Cornwall (St Ives and Zennor). I have been to Cornwall and am back there for a second time (staying in St Ives!) It is a magical place- this book captures its allure beautifully. The descriptions are evocative of the place and probably the people living here in 1917. But........... The start was slow for me- for the first almost half of the book, I actually would rate it a 3 ! But for just over the second half of the bo This was one of those books that I was dying to read because it takes place in Cornwall (St Ives and Zennor). I have been to Cornwall and am back there for a second time (staying in St Ives!) It is a magical place- this book captures its allure beautifully. The descriptions are evocative of the place and probably the people living here in 1917. But........... The start was slow for me- for the first almost half of the book, I actually would rate it a 3 ! But for just over the second half of the book, I would rate it a 5! What I loved about the book: the place , of course; the way small town gossip ignites like a fire; the descriptions of the effects of the war on the returning soldiers and on the people left behind; the love and bond of family; and the fact that D.H. Lawrence and his German wife are incorporated into the story. The beginning is slow- too many family members to keep track of; too descriptive at times and too much circling around the same storyline- but then this book explodes ! I read the second half in less than a day. I do highly recommend this book, but be patient at the start !

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    Helen Dunmore's Zennor in Darkness proved the perfect tome to pick up over a relaxed and warm bank holiday weekend. I first read the novel some years ago, but did not remember much about it, save for D.H. Lawrence featuring as one of the protagonists, and the sweeping Cornish setting. First published in 1993, John le Carre calls this 'a beautiful and inspired novel', and the Sunday Telegraph deems it 'highly original and beautifully written'. Zennor in Darkness opens in May 1917, when war has com Helen Dunmore's Zennor in Darkness proved the perfect tome to pick up over a relaxed and warm bank holiday weekend. I first read the novel some years ago, but did not remember much about it, save for D.H. Lawrence featuring as one of the protagonists, and the sweeping Cornish setting. First published in 1993, John le Carre calls this 'a beautiful and inspired novel', and the Sunday Telegraph deems it 'highly original and beautifully written'. Zennor in Darkness opens in May 1917, when war has come to haunt 'the coastal village of Zennor; ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories.' It is into this environment that D.H. Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda, move, seeking a cheaper existence away from the controversy which his writing has caused in London. Also resident in the village, and living with her widowed father, is a young woman named Clare Coyne. She is a young artist, whom Lawrence and Frieda soon befriend. When Lawrence arrives in Cornwall, it is almost directly after the publication and scandal of his novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. In Zennor, he is 'growing vegetables to eke out his tiny income. He earns his living by his writing, and it has shrunk close to nothing since his novel was seized by the police in November 1915 and prosecuted for obscenity. The book is shameful, say reviewers and prosecution. It is a thing which creeps and crawls... He does not know when he will be able to publish another novel. But with a remote cottage rented at five pounds a year, and cheap rural living, he hopes that he and his wife may get through the war.' Controversy follows the Lawrences wherever they go, however; local residents are highly suspicious of Frieda's German accent, and the couples' penchant for singing Hibernian lullabies to one another. 'This brazen couple,' writes Dunmore, 'ignores the crossed, tight webs, the drystone walls, the small signals of kinship, the spider-fine apprehensions of those who've lived there for ever once they feel a fly strumming somewhere on their web.' Dunmore's descriptions throughout are highly sensual. At the outset of the novel, when Clare decides to swim with her cousins with nothing on, she writes: 'Second in, she must be second out. And she wants the sea to herself for a minute, the noise and swell of it, her bare flesh rocking in salt water.' The rural scenery, as well as the current crisis and its effects, are set with such grace. Dunmore is very understanding of the location against which the action of the novel plays out, as well as the wider political climate, and the links between the two. When Clare and Lawrence survey the sea, for instance, she writes: 'It is wonderful to have your back to the land, to the whole of England: to have your back to the darkness of it, its frenzy of bureaucratic bloodshed, its cries in the night... To have your back to this madness which finds a reason for everything: a madness of telegrams, medical examinations and popular songs; a madness of girls making shells and ferocious sentimentality.' Dunmore's depictions of people, too, are vivid and memorable. When Clare meets Lawrence for the first time, for instance, she finds that 'his beard is astonishing. It juts from his face, wiry and bright red, and then the sunlight catches it and it's all the colours she'd never have thought human hair could be: threads of orange and purple like slim flames lapping at coals.' Whilst the majority of the novel is told using the third person omniscient perspective, the use of diary entries written in Clare's voice are effective. Using this technique, Dunmore shows a more tender side of her, and it is also, of course, far more revealing than she is able to be in her public life. Snippets of first person perspective, and thoughts of individual characters, have been woven throughout. Sometimes asides are given, or reflections between snatches of dialogue. Separate characters are focused upon in individual chapters, and we are thus able to see the rich tapestry of those who live within Zennor, some of whom are real historical figures, and others of which have been imagined by Dunmore. Everything within Zennor in Darkness has been beautifully placed into what is a taut and tightly executed novel. Throughout, Dunmore's writing is measured and careful; she is understanding of her characters, and never resorts to melodrama. Zennor in Darkness is a novel to really admire; it is slow, sensuous, incredibly human, and highly beautiful.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Roger Brunyate

    View from the Sidelines The title is less mysterious than it might seem. Zennor is a tiny town near St. Ives in Cornwall where D. H. Lawrence leased a secluded cottage in 1916 and 1917. The Darkness is of course the First World War, which claimed the young men of the county, brought German U-Boats to their shores, and set the suspicious villagers against Lawrence, his strange pacifist ways, and his German wife Frieda von Richthofen (a distant cousin of the celebrated Red Baron). Also straddling t View from the Sidelines The title is less mysterious than it might seem. Zennor is a tiny town near St. Ives in Cornwall where D. H. Lawrence leased a secluded cottage in 1916 and 1917. The Darkness is of course the First World War, which claimed the young men of the county, brought German U-Boats to their shores, and set the suspicious villagers against Lawrence, his strange pacifist ways, and his German wife Frieda von Richthofen (a distant cousin of the celebrated Red Baron). Also straddling the gap between two worlds is the fictional Clare Coyne and her widowed father Francis, an impoverished younger son of minor Catholic aristocracy. Francis' wife, a former lady's maid, died of TB while Clare was still an infant, leaving her to be brought up mainly by her extended family in this Cornish town, people of good heart but a different class and religion from her father. But while Francis Coyne lives in isolation on dwindling investments, writing a book on local botany, Clare leads a full life among her relatives and friends, developing her talents as an artist, and eventually striking up a friendship with Lawrence himself. Zennor is a lovely place, with bracing cliff landscapes and sea air, beautifully evoked by Helen Dunmore. But the darkness is never far from their doors. Telegrams arrive with sickening frequency announcing yet another death. Men return wounded in invisible ways. Passions flare in brief encounters that only reinforce awareness of the destruction taking place just the other side of the Channel. Zennor in Darkness ranks with Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy as a view of war from the sidelines, helpless but by no means unaffected. This is a remarkable achievement by any standard, but as a first [adult] novel it is simply astounding. I can certainly see similarities with two more recent Dunmore books that I have read: she will use the WW1 period again in A Spell of Winter, and Clare's Cornish childhood is very similar to that of the heroine in Talking to the Dead ; indeed the power of childhood memories and close familial connections is a powerful theme in all three books. But as opposed to the rather melodramatic plot constructs in those later novels, this one deals with a period that needs no additional drama; its story unfolds naturally, almost inevitably; and its combination of fact and fiction seems effortless. Clare is a beautiful character, and Dunmore's Lawrence shares that edgy charisma that made his thinly-veiled appearance in Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point the highlight of that book also. I am eager to see what Dunmore makes of another real-life wartime setting, that of the siege of Leningrad, in her 2002 novel, The Siege (which I eventually reviewed).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    One of the earlier books by the much missed Helen Dunmore.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Zennor in Darkness is Helen Dunmore's first novel for adults, however she is also very prolific with children's novels. All of Dunmore's books are shockingly descriptive, and even this adjective lacks justice -- obviously she has had the gift to write so well since day one because Zennor in Darkness is truly incredible from an intimacy standpoint and is beautifully written. The novel is set in England during WWI along the coast of Cornwall. Those infamous U-boats are prevalent and us readers are Zennor in Darkness is Helen Dunmore's first novel for adults, however she is also very prolific with children's novels. All of Dunmore's books are shockingly descriptive, and even this adjective lacks justice -- obviously she has had the gift to write so well since day one because Zennor in Darkness is truly incredible from an intimacy standpoint and is beautifully written. The novel is set in England during WWI along the coast of Cornwall. Those infamous U-boats are prevalent and us readers are faced with the impending doom of this region's war days to come. We are introduced to Clare Coyne, a beautiful young woman who lives alone with her father and is close with nearby family, including her beloved cousin John William, whom just happens to be visiting home while on leave from the violent trenches. Adding spice to this ensemble is the character of author D.H. Lawrence and his bold German wife Frida, both of whom have settled in the village. Basically, Zennor in Darkness is about Clare's interaction with her family, D.H. Lawrence, and all the other drama that goes hand in hand with war -- and coming of age. As often expected with these types of novels, we read about Clare's coming-of-age as a young woman as she is introduced to love, violence, sex, friendships, humanity, and various bohemian arts. You may shrug and roll your eyes at this because after all, aren't all coming-of-age novels practically the same?! But...Dunmore is always magnificent because her characters are so vulnerable and just HUMAN. We read the inner monologues of many characters but mainly Clare, and it's these private thoughts that really hold heavy on our hearts. Awwwww....you may say, but it's entirely true. For those of us who have never felt the impacts of war during our lifetime, Zennor in Darkness is jarring, scary, and really makes you put the book down to run and kiss your loved ones. The novel really makes you appreciate life. Another admirable trait of Helen Dunmore is that she makes her literature into art. I bet she doesn't consciously do this because you can tell by the way she writes -- I just love how she throws in new vocabulary words in the least intimidating way possible. It's simply beautiful and leaves me awestruck. My only gripe about Zennor in Darkness is the cliche at the end. Of course I'm not going to provide spoilers but think about it...what befalls beautiful and naive young girls new to love and sex? Hmmmmm... Helen Dunmore is underrated and NOT to be missed! I knew there was a reason I added her entire bibliography to my wish list months ago. I highly recommend Talking to the Dead (1996) in addition to Zennor in Darkness. I've yet to read all her other novels, so stay tuned! Newer titles include The Betrayal (2010), Counting the Stars (2008), and House of Orphans (2006). Read more book reviews at http://dreamworldbooks.com.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Demelda Penkitty

    Spring, 1917, and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories. Into this turmoil come D. H Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda hoping to escape the war-fever that grips London. They befriend Clare Coyne, a young artist struggling to console her beloved cousin, John William, who is on leave from the trenches and suffering from shell-shock. Yet the dark tide of gossip and innuendo mea Spring, 1917, and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories. Into this turmoil come D. H Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda hoping to escape the war-fever that grips London. They befriend Clare Coyne, a young artist struggling to console her beloved cousin, John William, who is on leave from the trenches and suffering from shell-shock. Yet the dark tide of gossip and innuendo means that Zennor is neither a place of recovery nor of escape . . . The novel follows Clare and her family over the course of about a year set against the background of the war. Whilst the majority of the story is told using the third person the use of diary entries written in Clare’s voice are effective. Using this technique, Dunmore shows a more tender side of her, and it is also, of course, far more revealing than she is able to be in her public life. Separate characters are focused upon in individual chapters, and we are thus able to see the rich tapestry of those who live within Zennor, some of whom are real historical figures, and others of which have been imagined by Dunmore. Everything within Zennor in Darkness has been beautifully placed into what is a taut and tightly executed novel. Throughout, it is slow, sensuous, incredibly human, and highly beautiful. Dunmore's sensitivity to the Penwith landscape is vivid and remarkable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    We randomly pulled off the road into the little village of Zennor. It's a tiny Cornish village set just in from the sea that happens to have a tea room, a museum and a wonderful Cornish bookshop. I was even more surprised when I realized that I already had this book about Zennor at home, waiting to be read. Zennor in Darkness was immensely richer than the World War I story I thought would be within the covers. The book was a blend of what might be Cornish traits--poetry, practicality, strong pass We randomly pulled off the road into the little village of Zennor. It's a tiny Cornish village set just in from the sea that happens to have a tea room, a museum and a wonderful Cornish bookshop. I was even more surprised when I realized that I already had this book about Zennor at home, waiting to be read. Zennor in Darkness was immensely richer than the World War I story I thought would be within the covers. The book was a blend of what might be Cornish traits--poetry, practicality, strong passions and personalities. It wasn't at all what I expected, both earthier and more ethereal.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vanessab

    This book is beautifully written, lyrical and descriptive. I think it owes a good deal to D.H.Lawrence's work and a few sentences seemed to be straight out of "Sons and Lovers". I enjoyed the historical detail and the character portrayals as well as the exploration of gossip, rumour and misapprehension. The descriptions of the Cornish Coast are very evocative. I did find it a little ponderous and repetitive in places but look forward to reading more by this author. This book is beautifully written, lyrical and descriptive. I think it owes a good deal to D.H.Lawrence's work and a few sentences seemed to be straight out of "Sons and Lovers". I enjoyed the historical detail and the character portrayals as well as the exploration of gossip, rumour and misapprehension. The descriptions of the Cornish Coast are very evocative. I did find it a little ponderous and repetitive in places but look forward to reading more by this author.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Fenella Ford

    Having been fortunate enough to hear Helen Dunmore speak when she gave one of the Suffolk Book League's monthly talks some years ago, I was intrigued to read her first novel - hadn't read any others of hers. I had recently read a couple of other books around the First and Second World Wars (in 2014 Testament of Youth, and this year In Love and War by Liz Trenow - enjoyed that more than Zennor - and The Childbury Ladies Choir which I absolutely loved) and have visited Cornwall this year, which we Having been fortunate enough to hear Helen Dunmore speak when she gave one of the Suffolk Book League's monthly talks some years ago, I was intrigued to read her first novel - hadn't read any others of hers. I had recently read a couple of other books around the First and Second World Wars (in 2014 Testament of Youth, and this year In Love and War by Liz Trenow - enjoyed that more than Zennor - and The Childbury Ladies Choir which I absolutely loved) and have visited Cornwall this year, which were also draws to this book. I would say I enjoyed Zennor, but I didn't love it. At first I found it rather heavy on the sensuous descriptions of colours and physical feelings - it reminded me of actually reading Lawrence, which I did in my first year BA course in English Literature - Twentieth Century Literature, which included Sons and Lovers, Women in Love and The Rainbow. It made me think that Dunmore was rather self-consciously imitating this aspect of Lawrence's style, along with the descriptions of sexual play here and there during the book. However, from reading other reviews I think perhaps this is just Dunmore's own style rather than a reference to Lawrence's style. I thought there was a nice symmetry to the beginning and end, with the three girls going for a walk but wondered why the three of them had been set up in the first chapter when Peggy barely figures throughout the book. I felt the sense of isolation and awkwardness of both Frieda (what a lot she gave up for Lorezo - her marriage, children, home - and yet he was always out with his new friends and acquaintances, so how much did she actually see of him? I guess he was partly making himself fit in with neighbours in order to protect them and get them accepted), and Clare's father - I felt sad for him. I was interested to realise, after I had finished the book that the Katherine and Jack Murry were actually Katherine Mansfield and her husband - would have been interested to have know this before. Would I read another Helen Dunmore? Possibly, but not yet - I was glad to finish it and get on to something else. SPOILER ALERT Interesting question mark introduced in the closing chapters about the paternity of Clare's baby - was it really her cousin's or Lawrence's as her father suspected? From Clare's view there is no doubt it was her cousin's.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Huw Rhys

    I'm not at all sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, there is a heart string tugging love story at the centre of it, in which all the horrors, futility and despair of the first World War on both sides of the English Channel are invoked. This central thread is beautifully written, and the story is rounded in as much as such a story can be rounded - but the questions it asks in themselves are thought provoking and evocative. If this were the only story written about in this book, it woul I'm not at all sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, there is a heart string tugging love story at the centre of it, in which all the horrors, futility and despair of the first World War on both sides of the English Channel are invoked. This central thread is beautifully written, and the story is rounded in as much as such a story can be rounded - but the questions it asks in themselves are thought provoking and evocative. If this were the only story written about in this book, it would have been a far, far better read. Unfortunately, another half story is shoe horned into the whole, like an ugly attempted graft onto a tree that was never meant to be, and ultimately withers and dies like a rather poorly thought out experiment. This is the story of DH Lawrence and his German wife Frieda, who were living near Zennor in "real life" at the time at which this story was set. It almost seems as if the author felt honour bound to work this historically accurate fact into the story, but it just doesn't work unfortunately - and as a result, adds a completely unnecessary layer of obfuscation and irrelevance into what is otherwise a perfectly enjoyable WW1 love story, set in a gorgeous part of the world, and full of believable characters and situations.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Cresswell

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. One of the most moving books I've ever read. Beautifully written, so poetic. I cried when John William died. 5/5 stars One of the most moving books I've ever read. Beautifully written, so poetic. I cried when John William died. 5/5 stars

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paula Bardell-Hedley

    The British poet, novelist and children's writer, Helen Dunmore died of cancer at the age of 64 on 5th June 2017. Sad to say, I have only now come to her work with this, her very first novel, published in 1993. Winner of the McKitterick Prize, Zennor in Darkness could best be described as a rich, intricate, intensely lyrical historical novel. Set in the spring of 1917, at a time when the controversial author, D.H. Lawrence, and his German wife, Frieda (pejoratively referred to as "Hunwife" by war The British poet, novelist and children's writer, Helen Dunmore died of cancer at the age of 64 on 5th June 2017. Sad to say, I have only now come to her work with this, her very first novel, published in 1993. Winner of the McKitterick Prize, Zennor in Darkness could best be described as a rich, intricate, intensely lyrical historical novel. Set in the spring of 1917, at a time when the controversial author, D.H. Lawrence, and his German wife, Frieda (pejoratively referred to as "Hunwife" by wary locals who suspect the unconventional couple of being enemy spies) sought refuge from war-obsessed Britain in a tiny Cornish coastal village close to St Ives. Their story is interwoven with those of finely drawn fictional characters, in particular, Clare Coyne, a young artist they befriend. This mesmerizing, poignant novel, which explores what it means to belong and how it feels to be an outsider in a tight, ultra-traditional community, seeks to define courage amid a miasma of gossip, scandal and innuendo. All told, Dunmore published twelve novels. I intend to read each one of them, probably in sequence. Sheer indulgence? Maybe, but I'm thoroughly hooked and have much catching-up to do!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susy

    I wanted to love this book. Set in Cornwall (a place I recently visited) during the Great War and including real life author, DH Lawrence as a character and a young Irish Catholic protagonist it should have been a book I inhaled. But I didn't. I waited for the pace to hasten and the characters to reveal their souls to me but it didn't happen. And yet, I loved reading about a place where I recently hiked and the descriptions of the coast and the sea were familiar. I liked it enough to read more o I wanted to love this book. Set in Cornwall (a place I recently visited) during the Great War and including real life author, DH Lawrence as a character and a young Irish Catholic protagonist it should have been a book I inhaled. But I didn't. I waited for the pace to hasten and the characters to reveal their souls to me but it didn't happen. And yet, I loved reading about a place where I recently hiked and the descriptions of the coast and the sea were familiar. I liked it enough to read more of this author.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nick Briggs

    This seems to be under the radar as a great novel, but it is. It captures perfectly a place in a particular time. The place is Zennor and the time is the First World War. The novel captures many things and Dunmore often writes as the poet she was albeit in the novel format. One thing she particular captures is the power of public mood and consciousness in times of national events like wars. This novel captures the dark side of this through the eyes of D H Lawrence, living in Zennor at the time t This seems to be under the radar as a great novel, but it is. It captures perfectly a place in a particular time. The place is Zennor and the time is the First World War. The novel captures many things and Dunmore often writes as the poet she was albeit in the novel format. One thing she particular captures is the power of public mood and consciousness in times of national events like wars. This novel captures the dark side of this through the eyes of D H Lawrence, living in Zennor at the time the novel is set in. Hugely recommended.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    I found this a compelling story although it is quite dark and depressing in parts. It really reminds you how awful WW1 really was for everyone involved and shows the effect that it had on the soldiers, their families and society in general.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Candida

    I read another of her books and absolutely loved it, so I thought I would go back to her first and work my way through all of her books but I really didn't like this one. There was no subtlety at all, it felt very contrived. I still intend to keep reading her books though as Exposure was fabulous! I read another of her books and absolutely loved it, so I thought I would go back to her first and work my way through all of her books but I really didn't like this one. There was no subtlety at all, it felt very contrived. I still intend to keep reading her books though as Exposure was fabulous!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    It was the the time period that drew me to this novel in the first place. I want to read as much as possible about every facet as I can of the First World War. Here we have a small community away from London and the bombs. While D.H. Lawrence isn't *the* central character, he and his German wife Frieda are central to the story and they do have several scenes. In one of them Lawrence notes he has his back to England and is facing America across the sea. My knowledge of the UK is very cursory and It was the the time period that drew me to this novel in the first place. I want to read as much as possible about every facet as I can of the First World War. Here we have a small community away from London and the bombs. While D.H. Lawrence isn't *the* central character, he and his German wife Frieda are central to the story and they do have several scenes. In one of them Lawrence notes he has his back to England and is facing America across the sea. My knowledge of the UK is very cursory and that had me running to Google and a map. Zennor is in the extreme southwest of England near the southernmost tip of the Cornwall peninsula. Lawrence's description was perfect. Clare Coyne and her extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins live in St. Ives, about a 6 mile walk from Lawrence and his wife. It is a small community where everybody knows everybody and where the gossip is rife. They don't like at all that there is a German amongst them when their young men are dying in such huge numbers fighting the Germans. Frieda does not yet realize how much she is hated. They would be glad to knock her over the cliff, and him too, if they could get away with it. But they do not quite dare; not yet. I thought Helen Dunmore was able to convey the tension that existed in the community, rather than that she was building tension in the novel. Despite this, don't expect too much plot here. It is more good writing and characterization than plot. The excellent characterization of the time period and setting should not be ignored. I note there were two somewhat explicit sex scenes, one of which as I read it I thought unnecessary. I'm not sure the explicitness was necessary, but it did provide insight into one of the characters, and that insight that *was* necessary in understanding the last 40 or so pages. This was my first Helen Dunmore. I have seen others of her titles being pitched in my Kindle deals emails when I thought she wrote fluff because of the covers. I know better now and will be looking at titles carefully. This was her debut novel. It isn't perfect - I thought it dragged a bit in the middle chapters. Before I was finished however, I remarked "I'm 75 and still finding authors and books I want - no need! - to read." Only because of that middle part dragging is this 4-stars.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tamsin

    A wonderful writer. I've given this book 5 stars despite struggling to get into it and actually disliking many aspects of the first chapter because the writing throughout is so exquisite and Helen Dunmore just seems to be on a different plane to a lot of other writers. She really is a poet (well, literally I know) and somewhere around the middle of the novel I found myself wondering if she's even capable of writing a mediocre sentence. A few niggly things e.g. not my favourite ever beginning as A wonderful writer. I've given this book 5 stars despite struggling to get into it and actually disliking many aspects of the first chapter because the writing throughout is so exquisite and Helen Dunmore just seems to be on a different plane to a lot of other writers. She really is a poet (well, literally I know) and somewhere around the middle of the novel I found myself wondering if she's even capable of writing a mediocre sentence. A few niggly things e.g. not my favourite ever beginning as mentioned... and I started realising somewhere toward the end of the book that I didn't actually like the main character much... but these are just subjective quibbles. The two things that impressed me the most were 1) The amazingly detailed evocation of 1917 St. Ives/Zennor - was Helen Dunmore there? I'd love to know how much came from research and how much from educated imagining 2) The vivid reminder of just how tough life was on the Home Front. We all know how terrible WW1 was for everyone affected but every so often you come across something that really makes you feel it, and there were such moments during Zennor in Darkness. One moment that comes to mind is in the first chapter funnily enough - it's mentioned that a peripheral character, the mother of a soldier, had happend to be sitting outside her house catching some sun when she was 'forced to watch the telegraph boy on his bicycle as he rode down the street' - obviously we know what news he was delivering. There are brilliant quotes from later on in the book that so successfully capture a feeling of helplessness when faced with the omnipotent, runaway-train nature of the war as it gathered its (increasingly aimless seeming) momentum sweeping the country devouring young men. As mentioned in below reviews, this is Dunmore's first novel, so if flawed (and to me there are no significant flaws) it's perhaps understandable. This is also the first novel of hers that I've read, so I'm excited to read her later works. If she ended up improving on her first attempt then all the better, but I'll personally be more than happy if the others are the same standard as this one.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Anne Tucker

    So enjoyed this book - I read it in 3 days and couldn't put it down. I am also intrigued by the fact that it meant so much to me in the post-referendum Brexit world that we are in (and how differently I might have thought about it if I'd read it 2 years ago). It was beautifully crafted - the mix of current story and past information on each character - was very well handled, slowly revealing more about each person's motivation. Although it is about DH Lawrence (and is mostly true I think), he is So enjoyed this book - I read it in 3 days and couldn't put it down. I am also intrigued by the fact that it meant so much to me in the post-referendum Brexit world that we are in (and how differently I might have thought about it if I'd read it 2 years ago). It was beautifully crafted - the mix of current story and past information on each character - was very well handled, slowly revealing more about each person's motivation. Although it is about DH Lawrence (and is mostly true I think), he is presented mostly in his anti-war capacity and married to a German woman, rather than as a controversial novelist that we might know him better as. The relationship between him and Clarey is beautifully explored, along with the serious insecurities of both; the understated crisis in John William is so delicately handled that it's even more shocking when he kills himself. And the marvellous descriptions of the pointless waste of life and the horror of WW1, with the lies told by the powerful to enable them to keep feeding cannon fodder to this useless nightmare that is out of control and that nobody can stop, as too many have already died for anyone to be able to admit it was a huge mistake. And the way that people's perceptions are manoeuvred (through 'fake news') to allow continuous support for the war, is heartbreaking and terrifying in equal measures. Brilliant writer and the characters will stay with me for a long time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    David

    Helen Dunmore's first novel gives hints of what is to come. All her other ten novels on my bookshelf are better, but "Zennor in Darkness" is still worth reading. I thought at first it seemed very ordinary, but the story and the writing soon picks up. It is an interesting mix of fact and fiction. The central character is a young Clare Coyne who lives with her father in St Ives, a short way from Zennor where D H Lawrence has taken a cottage with his wife Frieda. The writer was actually there in 19 Helen Dunmore's first novel gives hints of what is to come. All her other ten novels on my bookshelf are better, but "Zennor in Darkness" is still worth reading. I thought at first it seemed very ordinary, but the story and the writing soon picks up. It is an interesting mix of fact and fiction. The central character is a young Clare Coyne who lives with her father in St Ives, a short way from Zennor where D H Lawrence has taken a cottage with his wife Frieda. The writer was actually there in 1917 when the book is set, and the fact that Frieda is German makes for a tense atmosphere with many of the locals. When Clare meets Lawrence they strike up a friendship. Clare is encouraged to visit his wife as she knows no women there. Clare retorts "Is that sufficient recommendation - the fact that I'm a woman". I preferred the fictional relationships of Clare and her cousins family, making do with the limited resources of wartime. The trauma of those relations who died or return damaged is eloquently described as is the impact on the community.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ant Koplowitz

    Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore is a rich, multi-layered novel set during World War I. At the centre of the story is Clare Coyne, brought up in remote Cornwall by her 'part-time' father and her extended family. The story is about the impact of the war on this family - how they try to minimise their loss, how they cope with the war's deprivations, and how they deal with the semi hero worship of their special son going off to serve King and Country. The other element focuses on the presence of Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore is a rich, multi-layered novel set during World War I. At the centre of the story is Clare Coyne, brought up in remote Cornwall by her 'part-time' father and her extended family. The story is about the impact of the war on this family - how they try to minimise their loss, how they cope with the war's deprivations, and how they deal with the semi hero worship of their special son going off to serve King and Country. The other element focuses on the presence of the writer D H Lawrence and his wife who rent a cottage in the vacinity; Clare forms a friendship with the couple. I enjoyed the story, but the journey was a bit wearing after a while - the endless in-depth analysis of every look, word, interaction, and nuance of behaviour seemed slightly overdone for me. And young Clare seemed to have an amazing degree of self-awarenes and self-control for someone so young. Not Dunmore's best book - slightly 'over-written' - but even that's head and shoulders above most other novelists.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Aayusi Biswas

    Helen Dunmore is a witch and her pen is a wand.⠀ ⠀ This book was a lanslide of emotions. While the title sounds all mystic and beautiful, it is very revealing once you finish the book. Zennor is a little Cornish village where D.H. Lawrence took up a secluded cottage with his German wife for a couple of years. The Darkness is the first world war. Clare, a Cornish girl is the bridge between the unpleasant folks of the village and Lawrence. Brave and beautiful Clare is responsible for keeping it all Helen Dunmore is a witch and her pen is a wand.⠀ ⠀ This book was a lanslide of emotions. While the title sounds all mystic and beautiful, it is very revealing once you finish the book. Zennor is a little Cornish village where D.H. Lawrence took up a secluded cottage with his German wife for a couple of years. The Darkness is the first world war. Clare, a Cornish girl is the bridge between the unpleasant folks of the village and Lawrence. Brave and beautiful Clare is responsible for keeping it all together through thick and thin, love and betrayal. ⠀ ⠀ This was a piece of history tacked onto a beautiful fictional board. The book uses emotions to move the heart. Childhood memories and frequent changes in perspective blow life into the melancholic telegrams that announce death of their sons. ⠀ ⠀ The ending leaves you breathless, pressed under rocks of emotions tumbling from somewhere far away. If you love a good story, a good writer, you need to read this.⠀ ⠀ This book won the Orange Prize and I'm not at all surprised. Helen Dunmore has my heart.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    This was performed in 10, 13-minute segments. The reader, Louise Brealey, definitely was a boon to this abridged reading of the book. (I'll forever hear the way she pronounced "Clarey" when I hear the name "Clare".) I don't know anything about D.H. Lawrence, and it would probably have made the story more enjoyable if I had. As presented, even the parts about him and his wife seemed too dramatic to be true, so I don't know where the history ended and the fiction began. I sort of hate to think he This was performed in 10, 13-minute segments. The reader, Louise Brealey, definitely was a boon to this abridged reading of the book. (I'll forever hear the way she pronounced "Clarey" when I hear the name "Clare".) I don't know anything about D.H. Lawrence, and it would probably have made the story more enjoyable if I had. As presented, even the parts about him and his wife seemed too dramatic to be true, so I don't know where the history ended and the fiction began. I sort of hate to think he and Frieda might have really been as the author depicted them, but presumably she did some research in order to present them in a fairly realistic light. So much sadness and hardship associated with WWI. I enjoyed the representation of daily life in Zennor (that name sounds so exotic; I didn't expect it to be a town in Cornwall) and I liked the character portrayals. All in all, the story was both gripping and charming at the same time, and seems like it would be a good read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    Wonderful backdrop of Cornwall, UK during WWI. I wanted to do the walks and sit in the places the characters do because I know the views are simply outstanding. This author always does a wonderful job of giving the setting in her books a life of its own, just as if it was another character. Imagine St. Ives without the tourist mobs, just fishing boats, simple people in a village and rural area where everybody knows your business before you do. Or they think they do. And once set to rumour, it be Wonderful backdrop of Cornwall, UK during WWI. I wanted to do the walks and sit in the places the characters do because I know the views are simply outstanding. This author always does a wonderful job of giving the setting in her books a life of its own, just as if it was another character. Imagine St. Ives without the tourist mobs, just fishing boats, simple people in a village and rural area where everybody knows your business before you do. Or they think they do. And once set to rumour, it becomes 'God's Honest truth. No word of a lie.' Also a fictional peek into the life and thoughts of D.H. Lawrence who in reality did live in Cornwall for a few years during the first world war. He becomes very real in this sweet, early work by the wonderful late Helen Dunmore.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Terri

    I am not fully sure how to take this book since I adore Helen Dunmore as a writer and have had nothing but pure love for the books of hers that I have read. While this book was interesting and held a kind of magic in the way she wrote, it also has a slightly different feeling to the rest of her books. It held that clear feeling that most people felt during the war, the downside of it all and the feeling of sorrow when someone dies in a place where they should've been safe, well away from the war I am not fully sure how to take this book since I adore Helen Dunmore as a writer and have had nothing but pure love for the books of hers that I have read. While this book was interesting and held a kind of magic in the way she wrote, it also has a slightly different feeling to the rest of her books. It held that clear feeling that most people felt during the war, the downside of it all and the feeling of sorrow when someone dies in a place where they should've been safe, well away from the war torn shores of France. Set in the picture perfect location of Cornwall, we follow a family and the locals of a small town as they go through their motions and their lives.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tim Atkinson

    Putting into words my appreciation of the poetic storytelling spell cast by Helen Dunmore in a book like this defies all the efforts such magical prose inspires. The deft switching of perspective, the deep psychological insights, the vivid flash of well-chosen detail and the unrelenting, unflinching realism make for a masterpiece of fiction. The flawless dovetailing of historical characters and events with the literary setting is every bit the equal of Pat Barker’s excellent Regeneration trilogy Putting into words my appreciation of the poetic storytelling spell cast by Helen Dunmore in a book like this defies all the efforts such magical prose inspires. The deft switching of perspective, the deep psychological insights, the vivid flash of well-chosen detail and the unrelenting, unflinching realism make for a masterpiece of fiction. The flawless dovetailing of historical characters and events with the literary setting is every bit the equal of Pat Barker’s excellent Regeneration trilogy... but with added poetry.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Zoe

    I would agree with several previous reviewers who said they found the first half very slow. It picked up steadily then really got going. Had to stay up late to finish last chapter so there’s hope - keep going!! The description of the Cornwall’s landscape & natural history were beautifully written however some of the Cornish anecdotes were a bit obviously dropped in. Overall one of the better HD books (-I’ve read a few & enjoyed most)-especially if you’re surrounded by WW1 commemorations & live in I would agree with several previous reviewers who said they found the first half very slow. It picked up steadily then really got going. Had to stay up late to finish last chapter so there’s hope - keep going!! The description of the Cornwall’s landscape & natural history were beautifully written however some of the Cornish anecdotes were a bit obviously dropped in. Overall one of the better HD books (-I’ve read a few & enjoyed most)-especially if you’re surrounded by WW1 commemorations & live in Cornwall!

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