Friday, 28 June 2013

Painting the Darkness ~ by Robert Goddard

'Painting the Darkness' is a novel about identity and family, set in the late Victorian period.  The premise is simple, and very compelling: a man, James Davenall, who everyone thought was dead, suddenly reappears after eleven years, surprising his family and especially the girl who had once planned to marry him, Constance Trenchard.  Of course her new husband, Willian Trenchard, instantly distrusts the prodigal son, and sets out to prove that he is a fraud.  His family refuse to recognise him, as does his doctor, old school friends, and even his mother.  Only his old nanny believes that he is who he claims to be.

The plot is complicated by the fact that the stranger is very knowledgeable about many facts and secrets that only the true James Davenall could have known, so, just like Constance, the reader begins to believe that James truly was not driven to suicide on the eve of his wedding, as was originally believed.  How can he know so much and NOT be James Davenall?  If he can prove his case, he will inherit a huge fortune and a position of high social rank.  But most important of all, to him and the reader, is whether or not will he convince Constance to leave her husband and young child, and return to him, the only man she ever truly loved.

The appeal of this story is obvious, but most surprising is the beautiful, eloquent language that Goddard uses to tell his tale.  For example:
 'A moment later came the brief yellow flare of a match, a faint sigh of pleasure at the first inhalation, then the sound of his footsteps as he moved away, a mobile shadow in the stationary night, leaving only a drift of smoke and an acrid scent among the moon-blanched leaves.' 
Every line is phrased for its musical affect on the ear, which is why the audiobook version of this novel, read by the masterful Michael Kitchen, is a treat indeed.

 If you enjoyed the 'family mystery' genre of authors such as Kate Morton or Natasha Solomons, then you will love this book.  Every generation of the Davenall family have an horrific secret hidden away, as do most of the minor characters.  The fun is unraveling their mysteries, page by page.
Moreover, the plot of this text is never predictable or run of the mill.  Goddard spins a web of interrelated connections and links, that will require you to pay close attention from the word go.  In this, he always goes for the unexpected option, changing narrative point of view if he must, to take the reader places, and engender feelings, that we never expect to feel.  Do we want the stranger to be the real James Davenall?  Do we want Constance to give up everything to be with him?  Can she live up to her name and be constant to her husband?
Or do we side with the narrator, the hard-done-by husband, William Trenchard?  There are countless other characters, each with their own stash of secrets, providing countless subplots to keep even the most demanding reader guessing til the very last page.  Indeed, this is a book that I wanted to go on forever, the best testament for a book, I believe.  So please, do not be put off by the novel's non-descript title, the one over-sight by Goddard and his publishers, and give this delicious book a try.

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