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Dor Does Books

Oh, hai! I read books, then I write down what I think of them. 



Deeply lovely, deeply sad - Black Lake by Johanna Lane

Black Lake - Johanna Lane

[This book was provided to me for the price of No Monies by the kind people at Tinder Press facilitated in this act of munificent generosity by Bookbridgr]


I knew this book was going to be good because my Mammy attempted to yoink it from me within seconds of its arrival. Yup - this one's a hard copy and I will begin by giving a big thumbs up to the designer Kapo Ng for the cover. It might not look like much in the picture, but that typography goes straight to my appreciation centres. They're near Woking.


Black Lake is a story set at the point where family and property intersect. John Campbell is the owner of Dunlough, a rambling estate in remote Donegal built by John's ancestor in the 19th Century. However, as with so many of these estates, the money to maintain it has run out and John has put ancestral home in the hands of the government so they may open it to the public while he and his family move to a small cottage on the grounds. 


The book opens with a short and thickly veiled prologue. "The" girl and "the" mother are occupying what was to have been the house's ballroom, if the room had been finished, or the key not lost. The father converses from the other side of the door. Reference is made to the boy, to his absence. Finally, the door is broken down, the mother taken to Dublin to get better, and we, the reader, are taken to the previous spring, to the day the family left the house and gradually to the loss which provoked the mother's withdrawal.


The writing is excellent, the prose simple and confident. The shift in tone between the POV characters is subtle and Lane lets her scenes overlap to spool out tiny details - an extra line of a conversation, for instance - which builds one of the most three dimensional books I've read for a long time. The characters' preoccupation and individual isolation never becomes narcissistic. The danger this poses to the insular family is realised well.


It is a book about loss. The loss of a house which is not merely a home, but a life, a dynasty. It is about family, those present and those come from. 


I wouldn't be me if I didn't have complaints, but they are of the what the book doesn't do (and arguably doesn't have to) variety. Although terrifically grounded in its own world of Dunlough, it lacks a wider grounding in Ireland itself. This becomes a bigger deal within the economic context of the last 5 years - I live here so it felt like a major omission, like setting a novel in 40's France and failing to mention the German chaps walking around telling people what to do. It in no way causes a problem with the book, and if you are foreign I guarantee you won't notice or care, plus it will keep the novel from dating - it isn't given a timestamp that I recall, which means I can't legitimately complain about a reference to pounds rather than euro - but it felt odd. 


In conclusion then, Black Lake is a deeply lovely book. It is delicate, intelligent and eminently readable. I give it 4 stars and I look forward to more from this author - and hopefully seeing this one on some prize lists and book club picks.