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That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler


That Dark Remembered Day

That Dark Remembered Day is an intense and contemplative novel. It dissects the lasting impact of tragedy, and community and personal grief.

In the spring of 1983 Stephen’s biggest problem ought to be whether his new girlfriend will jeopardise his friendship with Brendan. Unfortunately the, as yet unspecified, event shatters his relatively carefree teenage years. Now, thirty years on he is forced to finally face-up to things unresolved and long buried.

It’s a beautifully written book that slowly unspins the events leading to Stephen’s current life. It’s clear that the terrible thing that has happened is linked to his father’s return from the Falklands War; the exact nature of which is only finally fully revealed towards the end of the story. The most striking thing for me was the emotional honesty of the writing.

Stephen is on suspension from his job, leaving him alienated and lacking the routine that has helped him keep his life in check for years:
‘the absence of structure gave his mind space to lurch into darker realms, turning in on itself’.
I immediately recognised the truth of this, as I’m sure many people will. A little later in the book as he reminisces about his childhood:
‘He’d forgotten how, before the horror of that day, there existed a joyful, ordinary childhood in which for the most part he delighted.’
This too, echoes true; one bad thing can so easily negate all the good that came before.

We learn about Stephen’s parents, their hopes for the future and dissatisfactions with their lives. Richard, a reluctant soldier, has stayed in the army too long without the necessary belief in the system. He’s looking to a freedom that’s in touching distance before the Falklands crisis destroys his hopes of release. Mary too is seeking more from life, more creativity and control, less dependence on the outside world. There is an inward-looking part of both their characters that seems at times to wilfully reject understanding themselves and each other.

It can be quite painful to read at times. Stephen and his mum are so awkward and emotionally distant with each other; Richard’s war experience is horrific and his homecoming fraught. His sense of dislocation is acute:
‘Rationally, he knew the silvered thread splayed across the path to be gossamer, the dew-glistened filament of a spider, assembled since he was here yesterday. And yet it was equally compelling to regard it as a trip wire, the enemy’s cunningness disguising it so.’
His difficulty in moving beyond war leaves him existing in a world that merges realities.

The most emotionally charged aspect of the novel for me is the community reaction to Stephen’s family. Whatever Richard has done, the whole family is punished for, even decades later. Their status as victims too is unexamined by the locals, quick to attribute the sins of the father onto the son. I found this shocking and unutterably sad.

I was wrapped in the landscape and natural world that formed a striking counterpoint to the town and its inhabitants. It suggests freedom and space but also reminds us that death can strike suddenly. That Dark Remembered Day is a quiet, powerful novel that will stay with me a good long while.

That Dark Remembered Day is available now from Headline. Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy to review.

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