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Repression, confinement and the dangers of `outside',
This review is from: When Nights Were Cold: A literary mystery (Hardcover)
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Opening in the first years of the twentieth century, awkward, obsessive Grace dreams about exploring the Antarctic. In the present, Grace is confined to her family home, full of lodgers and ghosts - but the question of what is `real' and what only exists in Grace's mind haunts this intelligent and impressive novel.
This is a quiet book, built on interiority and subjectivity rather than big, bold dramatic events which do take place but which don't necessarily drive the narrative. I found this very atmospheric, redolent of the dreadful claustrophobic narrowness of women's lives in the pre-war years, despite the rise of feminism in the suffragette movement.
The tensions simmering between the four women, between Grace and her parents, Grace and her sister, the relationships between men and women are reproduced with subtle skill, and the question of what is `real' gradually takes over the narrative.
This reminds me of a (post) modern take on Virginia Woolf, with its play of repression and fantasies of liberation. There is something deeply ambiguous about the book which I liked a lot - is the world `outside' of the mountains ultimately a source of freedom for these women, or just another way of confining them within a deeply conservative, patriarchal system?