I am avid HE Bates fan - reading and re-reading his books at regular intervals. The Sleepless Moon had managed to slip through my grasp until just now. I think this has to be his best written book. The story moves quickly over a period of a few years in a small town where the very young and shy Constance marries the immovably stubborn, soul-less and much older Melford Turner. Appearances mean a lot to him and it's not long before he becomes Mayor (as was his father). Constance yearns for company and passion but it is not to be with Melford. Before long, she turns to someone else but the relationship turns sour. Bates as usual plots his books beautifully, you can smell the pastures and live through the changing seasons like no other writer can do. Absolutely beautiful and very, very poignant.
I may be one of the few people who knew H E Bates as a writer of searingly honest war-time stories before I discovered the other side of his character in the Larkin books. Sleepless Moon is a great story about love and loss, set in a past time, with a lyrical quality to the writing that I love. If you admire Susan Hill, Daphne du Maurier, Sebastien Faulkes and other great wordsmiths, give H E Bates a try and you will probably become hooked as I was. And if you liked reading about the Larkin Family (not to be confused with the t.v series which could never capture the quality of the writing), do yourself a favour and try some of the other titles by the same author.
This book immerses the reader in a rural England of yesteryear, where the town dwellers are constrained by gender, class, education and tradition. Every aspect of life is ruled by how others' will judge your actions and freedom of action is only afforded to men with money and status. Even if you are a moneyed man - it is almost impossible to act independently from the heavy fog of expectation and society's norms. Constance, an ethereal intelligent woman who drifts into a 'suitable' marriage with Melford Turner, a prosperous grocer, is privileged in so many ways, but she wants happiness - a commodity in short supply when, as a woman, you have little control over your own life. Bates writes sparingly and with heart-breaking poignancy through the eyes of both the men and women in this tale of many loves. The Midlands landscape is lovingly described throughout and the reader can feel the cold crispness of spring, the weighty oppression of fog and snow, the light warm breezes of summer afternoons, the lightly scented violets plucked from a field. With light touch Bates takes us to a conclusion that is never predictable, and yet perfectly constructed. Recommended.