Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: The Hours Before Dawn

The Hours Before DawnCelia Fremlin
Awards: Edgar
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ –

This was an unexpectedly enjoyable and well-crafted book. It was scary and suspenseful but also funny. And it did not disappoint at the end. Many of the award winners I have read recently start out strong, with a great and original idea, but then falter. This one does not have a super-original plot, but it was engrossing and satisfying right up to the very last sentence.

The book takes place in 1950s London. The main character is Louise, a harried housewife and mother with a new baby who can never get enough sleep so she is constantly tired and making mistakes and losing things (including her baby). To earn some extra money, she and her husband take in a boarder who appears to be a mild-mannered schoolmistress but who becomes more and more sinister throughout the story.

I love the way Fremlin writes, very matter-of-fact-ly; she is sympathetic to Louise and her family but also shows their faults. She has surrounded Louise with neighbors and "friends" who constantly gossip and criticize and offer advice, but who never are actually any help. Among the "friends" are some "progressive" mothers who advocate the latest in child care, which in the '50s apparently means being as uninvolved as possible and leaving it up to your neighbors to feed and entertain your children.

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