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Posted: January 26, 2020

Straight to the heart of both love and terror

Book Review

By Derryll White

Hill Susan (2013).  Black Sheep.

Susan Hill is perhaps best known for her Simon Serrailler novels; he a British police detective who has a twin sister working as a medical doctor. Hill also has a long list of published fiction which stands apart from this series. ‘Black Sheep’ is one of these.

“Your chances are all waiting ahead of you,” 94-year-old Great Aunt Etta says to young Rose Howker.  Rose and her family live in Mount of Zion, a ubiquitous English coal-mining village.  The prospects are lean – all the men work in the pit and all the young women marry and become miners’ wives.

Rose and Ted are young members of a mining family.  Both see what the coal mine does, grinding down men and women alike, and both want out.

Susan Hill here writes a story about story, about all the stories we live and live beside. There is nothing startling here except for the clarity of her recounting. Ordinary people produce instructive and revealing stories with their ordinary lives. As always, Susan Hill lays it out without embellishment, straight to the heart of both love and terror. Hill continues to astound me.

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Excerpts from the novel:

COAL – It was a cold night for summer.  The window was slightly open and she shut it, to keep the smell of soot out.  But the smell of soot had long ago seeped into the walls and fresh air would never shift it.  You tasted it in your mouth night And day until  your food was seasoned with it and would have seemed strange without.

WORDS – Ted read until his grandfather was asleep, lulled by the words as he had been fuelled by them as a child.  He had never known what they meant and he did not think he knew now.  It did not matter.  The words were the background to his entire growing up and woven into his life like another skin.  He realised that he had missed nothing of home during his time at the farm, but he had noticed the spaces where the words had been.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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