Moving home is often disruptive, but not quite as much as this.
Publisher: Little, Brown (Hachette)
First Published: 20th May 2014
Date Reviewed: 19th May 2014
Marianne locks herself and Kate in the ballroom. Marianne may seem mad but it soons becomes apparent that there’s more than meets the eye, for the ballroom is stale and she won’t leave the building, and something has obviously happened to Philip.
Black Lake is a stunning début, a novel with a purposefully spoiled plot that explores the effects of displacement on a person.
If you have ever visited a historical country estate knowing that the reason you’re able to be there is an owner’s lack of money, this is a book for you. In Black Lake, the house of Dulough is somewhere between a character in itself and a catalyst. Lane looks at the various ways an extreme version of moving home can affect people based on how they feel about the place and how much knowledge is provided or kept from them. We see John, inheritor of a house without the funds to pay for it, upset at the prospect of government involvement but with the will that comes with calling the shots (as much as you can once papers have been signed). We see Marianne, his wife, a woman from a humble background who took a while to get used to the idea of not making the dinner and living away from the city but who is now happy, proud of her home, and under the impression that her children will always have that home. And we see the children, in particular Philip, who understandably has trouble with the new literal boundaries and the idea visitors can use his bedroom whilst he no longer can himself.
Lane shows us the differences. On the surface it seems that Marianne is the most affected, and it can be easy at first to think that the children will get used to things. But Lane shows how children can be affected by the smallest elements of change and how adults are slow to realise this when it happens. For example, take the defining moment – Philip telling a tourist that he’ll get his food for free because it’s his house and finding that he does actually need to pay. Lane handles Philip’s sections with care and the way she relays information is just as telling – Philip shows upset but never tears, and it is in this that the confusion of a previously happy child is shown.
Talking of Philip’s narrative, Lane has chosen a particular format for her story. She begins with the near-end, goes back in time, includes a long ‘never before seen’ account, before leaving the reader with a slightly opened-ended last page which infers much but confirms nothing. The third-person narrative switches between John, Philip, and, later, Marianne. A couple of chapters are written as descriptions from no one’s view in particular. It is written in the sort of literary style that is often prefaced with ‘nothing really happens’, and the style is likely to interest many. Something, many things, do happen, but Lane’s slow-moving seemingly dull writing is very deceptive. You’ll note, whether during or after having finished reading it, that there’s a layer of boredom to the book, yet what happens is anything but boring. It’s interesting to compare this illusion to the way the ‘government’ sees their semi-acquisition of the house. Having replaced the furniture and having prepared scripts for tour guides that are untruthful, it’s easy to imagine that the defining moment in the family may be passed over by the new staff, and not included. The Campbell family is of little importance now that the house can be enjoyed by the public and it’s ironic that the new, true, shocking fact in the family history would be glossed over or left out. Or, maybe, as can be the case, made overly vivid and expanded upon for money.
At the heart of the novel, more than the moving, is communication. John thinks Marianne has gone mad, but once you read her account, even before then, you see the lack of knowledge the aloof country man has of his social city girl. Perhaps if John spent time with her and discussed the money issues, the necessary transition might have been easier, or, if two heads are better than one, another option for upkeep might have presented itself. John’s secrecy is the main issue here, but one could also consider the difference between adults’ and children’s’ methods of coping and their knowledge of each other.
To be sure, in choosing to read Black Lake you have to be in the mood, or just open to, a book that has much to say whilst making you wonder if anyone cares. Black Lake is character-driven entirely, and the lack of emotion on the surface does mean that it requires your attention.
Black Lake is a magnificent study and story of family and upheaval. Fill up the teapot and get a whole place of biscuits ready, because this relatively short book is going to consume your afternoon.
I received this book for review from the publisher.
May 19, 2014, 5:06 am
A debut novel to get 5/5 has to be really impressive. The plot sounds different from anything I’ve ever read before. Will keep this in mind.
May 19, 2014, 7:22 am
I wavered as I read your review between thinking this sounds really good to it could be really dull and slow to read.I like the idea of it though and will definitely have a look at it. Moving house gets more difficult the older I get :)
May 19, 2014, 9:04 pm
Teapot, biscuits, wanting a new book *check*
May 20, 2014, 11:05 pm
The more I hear about this book, the more I want to read it.
May 30, 2014, 1:37 pm
VioletCrush: Yes, it’s pretty unique, which makes it all the more interesting.
Margaret: It is slow, but it’s a case of it needing to be, really. Because it’s character-driven, Lane needs time to show you all the emotion and so forth. I can imagine it does!
Literary Feline: Give it a go :) I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. I haven’t seen it around much yet which is a pity because not only is it good, it sort of begs discussion.