27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A Powerful and Absorbing Story,
This review is from: Black Sheep (Hardcover)
Susan Hill sets the stage for her latest story very effectively when she opens with: "On Mondays, the village, which was called Mount Zeal, smelled of washing as well as of coal dust." Her latest novel tells the story of the Howker family who live in Mount Zeal village, which is built into the hill in a bowl. At the base of the bowl lies the pit, where all the male members of the Howker family work in the mine; further up we find Lower Terrace, where many of the miners' families, including the Howkers, live; then there is the Middle Terrace and further up is the Upper Terrace, known as Paradise. When four-year-old Ted Howker asks his mother why, if the Upper Terrace is called Paradise, the pit is not called Hell, she boxes his ears and threatens to wash his mouth out with soap. But young Ted's words are somewhat prophetic, for as he grows up, he decides he cannot face the hell of the pit and makes the decision not to go down into the mines as the rest of his family has done before him. This decision shocks, confuses and alienates his family and causes repercussions for Ted that he could never have envisaged.
'Black Sheep' is the affecting and absorbing story of a family living a harsh and very real life; this is not a cosy, heart-warming tale of working-class people all living hugger-mugger together, but a raw and bleak portrait of life in a mining community, of the sheer back-breaking toil, of the lack of money and lack of clean air, of illness, of infirmity, of heartbreak and death. However, raw and bleak as this story may be, it is masterfully told, where not a word is wasted, and where the author has the ability to conjure up her characters and their situations in just a few sentences, bringing them vividly to life. A powerful, moving and haunting story where you become pulled into the lives of the Howkers immediately you begin reading; it's also a story which, although brief in length, may well leave you thinking about it for some time afterwards.