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Black Lake by Johanna Lane review

black lake

Last year I visited a country house in Somerset owned by the National Trust. As the guide showed us round the hushed rooms, swaddled in brocade and watched over by imposing oil paintings, she whispered that the last descendant still had small quarters in the house and, if we were lucky, we might see her wandering the grounds.

I was fascinated not so much by the oak lined library and the Chinoiserie and the other spoils from a Grand Tour, but by the juxtaposition of the everyday objects alongside. A Jamie Oliver cookbook mingled in with the green leather tomes, a copy of a recent Radio Times left open in a drawing room fenced off by red velvet ropes. What a peculiar trade off to have visitors traipsing round your ancestral home – and you can only come down when they have all gone for the day. To me, the whole house had an air of melancholy, and when I read further about the history of the family it became clear why – the house was mired in grief.

I was reminded of all this when reading Black Lake by Johanna Lane which tells the story of a family, the Campbells, who for generations have lived in a rambling estate called Dulough on the windswept Irish coast. They can no longer afford the upkeep of the house and grounds which needs constant repairs and so they have to move out to a small, dank and depressing cottage in the grounds, and let the tourists come.

The novel opens with the wife Marianne holed up in the ballroom, with her twelve year old daughter, Katherine, with the housekeeper leaving hot water outside and plates of food for her outside the door. Katherine thinks they are playing a game and it is only when they have been locked in there for a month and she hears her father smashing the crockery and sobbing outside the door, that she realises they are not. The mother refuses to answer the door and it is clear that something terrible has happened.

The narrative then reverses to the events of the previous Spring when the son, eight year old, Philip is rudely woken up by the removal men taking his bed. I loved the chapters seen through Philip’s eyes the most. Lane is very good at capturing the preoccupations and sensitivities of a child, who doesn’t really understand what is going on in the adult world. The narrative jumps around with each of the characters telling their part of the story until it is gradually revealed what has happened to cause his mother’s breakdown and the fracturing of the family.

The prose and the pace is languorous, sometimes perhaps just a little too languorous, but it is one of those beautifully haunting books focusing on the interior life of the characters. It is about all the things left unsaid, the hurts and misunderstandings and lack of communication. The landscape is beautifully drawn too – conveying both its oppressive nature and raw beauty. If, like me, you like books steeped in atmosphere and slow reveals, then you will love Black Lake. The cover is also exquisite – Tinder Press always seem to have the best covers.

Black Lake by Johanna Lane is published by Tinder Press

This book was kindly sent to me as part of the Bookbridgr scheme.

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