In the Dark
As I write this, the First World War is slipping out of memory and into history. Only five British servicemen are still with us – all aged over 106 – and soon these last witnesses will be gone. All that remains will be silence, and books, and our imaginations.
No other war has affected us so profoundly. It changed history, of course, and set in train the often catastrophic events of the twentieth century. But it’s the senseless slaughter of a generation of young men that haunts us. My grandmother, for instance, lost her only brother and eleven cousins. I often wonder what they would have done with their lives; how their grandchildren would be middle-aged by now; how the world would be a different place with those people in it.
In fact it’s my grandmother’s own story that inspired this novel. Her much-loved young husband Tommy was also killed in action in 1918, leaving her alone with a small son. She re-married a man her little boy hated, with disastrous results (her son, my half-uncle, ended up committing suicide). Nearly a century later and the effects are still being felt in my family – just one small example, amongst many, of the war’s fall-out. That sniper’s bullet changed everything.
I didn’t want to write about snipers, however. I wanted to write about the effect of the war on ordinary lives. This seems to be the missing piece of the jigsaw – we’re deluged with books about the trenches but we know little of what happened on the home front, where women struggled to survive without men, when they had to take over men’s work, when food was short, times were hard but also extraordinarily liberating. Rules were broken, the old world disintegrated and it would never be put back together again. The London of blackouts and bombing raids was a sexually-charged city where, as my butcher says, “women would drop their knickers for a pound of mince”. The dank, dark, gas-lit streets of Southwark, where my novel is set, seethed with secrets and deception. War creates victims but also profiteers, and my story concerns a young widow, who runs a shabby lodging-house, and a racketeering butcher who wooes her with meat. Her son’s hatred of this interloper leads to a chain of events with a dramatic and tragic climax.
1916. Pretty Eithne Clay runs a ramshackle South London boarding house with the help of her teenage son, Ralph, and their maid, Winnie. Struggling to keep herself, her lodgers, and her son going as every day life vanishes in the face of war, Eithne’s world is transformed by the arrival of Mr Turk, the virile, carnal, carnivorous local butcher who falls passionately in love with her. As the house bursts to life with the electricity – metaphorical and real – he brings, dark secrets come to light…
“From the first, perfect sentence…this novel is a gem.”
“Great narrative skill and emotional intelligence.”
“One of Deborah Moggach’s strengths as a writer is an ability to bring a contemporary sensibility to bear on richly imagined period detail, the better to illuminate the past…(In The Dark) is both convincingly Edwardian and erotic in a way that only a modern novel can be.”
“Sexuality is a subject that is often described in fiction but rarely explored. Deborah Moggach does it full justice here. the mutual sexual delirium between Eithne and the butcher is wonderfully well rendered…(Moggach) has created such a believable world. Under her perceptive probing the ordinary is shown in all his extraordinary variety, the mundane in its full splendour and magnificence.”
“The great joy of this tender little novel is Deborah Moggach’s sensory imagination…also excellent is Moggach’s remarkable restraint in not dolloping on the historical research too heavily.”
“The characterization is superb. Moggach has brilliantly resurrected a world of genteel penury and intense, furtive sex, and the book exudes quiet excellence.”
“For ‘Moggach”, my computer spellcheck suggests ‘magic’, and this sexy, succulent, witty read fully supports this belief.”
“The Moggach miracle continues – here’s another vivid, gripping yarn from the author of ‘Tulip Fever’…with a plot as twisty as a mountain road. It’s bound to end up on television, but why not read the book first?”
“Moggach showed her expertise at bringing the past to vibrant life in ‘Tulip Fever’…she has done it again here: written a very enjoyable story, created characters oozing flesh and blood, and packed it all up in lightly-worn research.”
“Like the recent novels by Ian McEwan and Sarah Walters, ‘In The Dark’ successfully modernizes the past.”
“This wartime novel of ordinary Londoners is atmospheric and buzzing with electricity…with its powerful climax, ‘In The Dark’ is a spirited portrait of lives thrown into turmoil by the Great War.”