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3.8 out of 5 stars
Blackmoor
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 18 July 2008
A novel set in a mining village during the 1980's might lead you to expect something rather predictable; gritty northerners, trouble down't pit and plenty of politics. But with his first novel Hogan has created something far more interesting and unworldly. The cover gives some sense of that; the ethereal glow of the dress and the pale skin beneath it, not to mention that this is a woman at the centre of the story. The strange circumstances of her death are the secret that haunts this story, and the efforts of her son to uncover that past provide the second strand of Hogan's narrative. But the title is important too. The village of Blackmoor is as much a character in this book as any of its inhabitants, and just as John Burnside created such a haunting presence with Innertown in his recent novel Glister, Hogan skillfully creates a myth around another landscape eaten away by industry.

Beth has always been marked out as different. Born 'a long shot' on the 29th February 1956 'the doctor noticed her extreme pallor and that extreme movement of the eyes. The pupils swayed slowly from side to side, or else trembled like a clenched fist'. Her albinism has always made others keep their distance, but George Cartwright becomes fascinated by her at school, almost stalking her, and eventually these two outcasts are married. After the birth of their son, Vincent, Beth suffers from severe post-natal depression and the strains on their marriage are only exacerbated by the events in Blackmoor.

After the collapse of the mining industry Blackmoor is a village in decay. What Hogan avoids is the '...romanticized idea of coalmining towns, informed mainly by the funny parts of the film Kes and repeats of Ridley Scott's Hovis advertisment on The Best One Hundred Adverts of All Time.' The men still frequent the Miner's Clubs, searching for a new purpose in life whilst the mine below them fills with water and dangerous gases. The Cartwright's lawn seems to be hot and other villagers experience sightings of blue flames and noxious air. The politics of the novel come when the villagers unite to tackle British Coal as they begin to question the safety of the very ground beneath their feet. Hogan shows with subtlety the fragility of community when the roles that people have previously played in it are ended or brought into question. People are quick to snap or look for blame and both George, but especially his wife Beth find themselves on the wrong end of the villagers glances.

Hogan's writing is filled with well observed detail and idiomatic language. The sense of the surrounding landscape is strong throughout as well as the struggles of the characters who inhabit it.

'Tell you what, you look outside and you just think, this place is billions of years old. Those trees. They're going to be here when I've disintegrated, and maybe a hundred million years or whatever, they'll be a seam of coal ready for some tw*t to set another bloody village on. We've been here for, what, a century? It's bugger all. Just a graze. Like a kid scratching around in the mud. We don't mean anything to it.'

As Beth tries to explain to an outsider 'everything here is used or used up or burnt out'. She will be the one to absorb so much of the poison and her fragilities are rendered with a surprising vigour. In the aftermath, Vincent's struggles to grow up and his slow discovery of the past are very touching. With such an impressive début, Hogan may be one to watch.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2008
The language is beautiful and yet it's also page-turning. I read this book in a few sittings, staying up late into the night to finish it. The characters are engagingly complex, their situations intriguing. The setting is as absorbing as the characters. I spent the last week immersed in Hogan's world of disused mines and quarries, teenage-hideouts and barren bedrooms. Remarkable that this is the author's début.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
An excellent debut novel from this 26 year old author, although when reading it you would never guess this is his first book.

The subject and title of the book - Blackmoor - is a old, decaying pit village on the borders of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Blackmoor pit was closed completely after the miner's strike and the village is slowly subsiding and in danger from gases that are building up in the disused pit. Eventually,British Coal decided to demolish Blackmoor and move the residents to a ready made new village just up the road. Beth, her husband and their small son Vincent will never actually live in the new village - this is the story of the disintegration of their little family. Beth is a little different to the usual mining wives - and suffers with mental health problems. The story of how her husband and son cope is the basis of the book.

This is a beautiful read in places - it is quite stark, the language is spare and to the point, but very poignant in places.

I really enjoyed this and look forward to more from this author
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Although it is nicely written and the basic concept for the story is a good one, Blackmoor is an oddly uninvolving book. It's well paced and quite gripping in parts, but I found it impossible to develop a relationship with any of the characters. The early parts of the book, before the true nature of the events in Blackmoor are understood, work better than the later ones.

Several promising threads of storyline fizzle out without excitement. Even the over-arcing story of the teenage boy finding out the truth about his mother has a flat, disappointing end. Hogan has lots of great ideas for elements in the story that could have been used to accelerate it to an exciting conclusion, but then chooses to let each become a damp squib.

So whilst it was quite enjoyable to read, I wouldn't give this book more than three stars.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2008
Read this in a weekend as it was a cracker! Gets to grips with the conflict that exists within small communities and the attitude that is often prevalent towards "difference" and "outsiders". In spite of the fact that some of the characters are less than pleasant the author manages to inspire a sense of empathy for them. It is not a linear narrative - there are frequent jumps in time, but these in no way detract from the story telling, they enhance the sense of drama and intrigue. Not an easy book to categorise but full of twists and turns!!!!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2009
For a first novel this isn't half-bad. Beth's world is one I was immediately interested in and, despite her albinism and nystagmus, a world in which she coped well - for a while. It is her inevitable breakdown that causes her husband, George, to alienate himself from her and their young son, Vincent. Growing up, Vincent tries his best to find out as much as he can about his mother, but his father holds everything close to his chest. To even think of her breaks his heart. However, there is more to this than meets the eye.
Blackmoor is a mining village: a close-knit community at the beck and call of the mine owners. When they are let down by the big bosses they turn to Michael Jenkins, a politician who may have an agenda of his own. The book moves from past to present effortlessly, telling Vincent's story and that of his parents with a simplicity not found in many new books. However, sometimes this simplicity left me yearning for things to get a little more complex. This is a story where the characters are the key, occasionally in need of a little more plot, though. I can't wait to see more from this promising author.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 15 May 2008
What a good read! This book is well written and cleverly written, with the narrator's voice changing throughout the book. The characters are well-drawn and the plot credible. It opens in mystery with a sense of darkness and foreboding, which never entirely leaves the story, and evolves into a boy's journey of self-discovery as he unearths the secrets of his forgotten past. Really enjoyable and highly recommended.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2009
Blackmoor is set in a village of the same name in Derbyshire, where I was born, and tells two stories. The first is the story of Beth "an albino, half blind, and given to looking at the world out of the corner of her eye" and her sudden death in the village (that's not giving anything away it's in the blurb). Beth is a mystery to the villagers, she doesn't act like everyone else and doesn't try to fit in, the people of the village believe something dark emanates from her and naturally they all gossip. When things start to go wrong in the village of Blackmoor people slowly but surely start to blame Beth's presence.

The second narrative through the book is the tale of Beth's son Vincent a decade later. His mother died when he was very small and his father George left Blackmoor soon after with him. George doesn't discuss Vincent's mother or like to hear her mentioned, and in some ways treats his son like the reason for the past being so shut out. However when Vincent makes a new (and it seems his only) friend they start working on a school project all about Blackmoor and Vincent starts to learn all about his mothers life and her secrets.

What did surprise me was from the cover and the blurb I had imagined that this book was set in the late 1800's one of my favourite era's to read. However when I opened it up I found it is set in the 1990's and 2003. I felt a bit disappointed for a moment until I started reading it and within about ten pages I was hooked. It's a wonderfully written book and keeps you turning the pages partly from the mystery but also because of the tales of all the villagers in both Blackmoor and also Vincent's new home town of Church Eaton as you read you know the characters so well, particularly the nosey busybodies. The setting in the 1990's looks at the mining industry and its closure and how that affected the villages like Blackmoor (which of course is fictional) and its inhabitants. It's quite a bleak and dark novel, if like me that is the sort of story you enjoy you will absolutely love this.
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on 21 August 2013
Had the potential to be a gripping read, but felt the characters weren't developed and the story just fell flat for me
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Easy read, well-developed characters with and a simple but provocative story line. However, after getting to know the characters well it seems to stop prematurely. Worth a read..........
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