Review: The Light in the Dark

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The Light in The Dark a Winter Hournal, by Horatio Claire (Paperback edition,  Elliot & Thompson)

I first reviewed The Light in the Dark (pub. 2018) in January 2019, in the hardback edition I borrowed from the library. The book is wonderfully written of course, the words and ideas are the important thing, and my review from January is below, but I want to add: I spend quite a lot of time thinking about book design from a reader’s point of view. Surely everyone loves a beautiful book?  I’m not necessarily talking about special editions and such, but simply holding a book that is, physically,  a pleasure to read is important to me – it’s a problem I have with ebooks, but let’s not have that debate here.

When I read the hardback edition I was struck by how well designed it was. A lovely looking book anyway, with its dark blue cover and wintery fields, quite small and it fitted in the hand like the journal it is. Then inside, the lines of text are nicely spaced,  with lovely wide margins and the type was of a size that didn’t require a magnifying glass to read it comfortably (sometimes I can’t read things even with my specs on!). This all somehow made me feel I was reading more slowly;  a more satisfying experience, when everything else is going so fast.  I’ve since made a conscious effort to slow down my reading. I realised I was reading whole books and then having no memory of them – especially if I’d read on a screen, and surely there’s a scientific study underway about that.

None of these physical qualities have been sacrificed in the paperback, it has french flaps to start with (again, no arguing…I like them!) . The cover has lost it’s snowy fields, but the dark branches of a tree against a deep blue sky scattered with sparkly stars are just as “come hither, reader”. The space between things remains the same inside, with a little snowflake between each diary entry.

Reading this again was as much of a pleasure as the first time round (and I did remember lots of it!). If you missed this book when it first came out then now – going into the darkest months of this year – would be a great time to read it.

Thank you to Alison Menzies PR and Elliott and Thompson for the review copy, I loved re-reading this.

REVIEW (first posted Jan 2019:

The Light in The Dark takes the form of a journal which Horatio Clare kept over the winter months (October to March). He decides, he will “embrace this winter like a summer” and not lose touch with nature, – this, he hopes, will carry him through.

The book skips about in time – with recollections of winters past as well as the one he’s living through while writing the diary. Clare grew up on a hill farm in Wales and cold winters are not a stranger to him – how he and his brother would long for snow, to be excitingly cut off from the world and not have to go to school is a familiar feeling to me! He writes of an archetypal “winter city morning” in Saint Etienne, of life in a seaside cottage in Pembrokeshire (a passage I particularly enjoyed, I love the coast in winter) and the birth of his son Aubrey in Italy during a deep snow. The writing is magical and transporting, but Clare often reminds us that he is battling the lows.

In an entry on 7th February Clare describes how he finds himself incapable of doing anything more than washing up, can only shop from a list – depression leaves you incapable of making even simple decisions; he tells his wife he is “really struggling with cognitive functioning” (I call this brain fog, it’s awful). Yet at the same time he does exactly what he said he would do, and there is a gorgeous passage about a post snowstorm twilight:

And then the snow stopped and the twilight was beautiful, all the valleys contours, the earth, dimly sugared, foregrounding the woods. The trees’ tangle of cross-branches appeared especially bright, their verticals pale gold or faint purple.

Through the journal we are introduced not only to place and Horatio Clare’s own experience, but also to his family, colleagues, students and community. I felt that he was not only noticing the natural world, but also making note, often, that he is not alone. Depression can feel isolating – I think it probably felt important to acknowledge this network around him, especially over the winter season.

This is a beautifully written book. In places it felt like I shouldn’t be reading it – as if I had picked up a private diary and started to peek through – but this was written in the spirit of openness, to write about winter’s difficulties and its rewards. It encourages readers to engage with winter, not to hide away from it. It’s a difficult read occasionally, but there is a great deal of warmth among the cold. Clare did not lose touch with nature; his descriptions of winter landscapes are fantastic – this is a gorgeous book, a great read to accompany the winter months.

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