Literature and War Readalong January 30 2012: Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore

Two or three years ago I read Helen Dunmore’s The Siege a painfully realistic and harrowing account on the siege of Leningrad. This was such a stunning novel, one of the best WWII novels I have ever read, accurate, moving, descriptive and captivating despite the bleak topic. When I discovered that she had written a novel on WWI, Zennor in Darkness, I didn’t hesitate and put it on this year’s readalong list right away. Helen Dunmore hasn’t only written novels, but short stories, children’s books and poetry as well. I think her wonderful prose shows that.

The story is set in a Cornish coastal village in 1917 and combines fact with fiction. D.H. Lawrence and his wife have indeed stayed there but the story is invented. The core theme seems similar to Return of the Soldier and deals with shell shock. But it is also a story of artists and writers. I have a weakness for books about artists and love Cornwall as a setting.

Here are the first sentences

One faint shriek. Then another. Three girls fling themselves over the top of the last dune and skid down warm flanks of sand. Marram grass slashes their ankles and sand kicks up behind Clare and Peggy, into Hannah’s eyes. She is the heaviest and the last.

Have you read Helen Dunmore?


The discussion starts on Monday, 30 January 2012.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2012, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

24 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong January 30 2012: Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore

    • That’s too bad. I have a feeling it could be very good. If it is anything like The Siege it is worth reading.
      Who knws, maybe you will still find it. It’s not very long. 🙂

  1. I’m interested in this one but with Miss Mackenzie and The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, both in English, my reading month is full.

    I’ll read your review!

    • I hope you will like The Enchantment of Lily Dahl as much as I did.
      I’m worried about my plans for January. The Savage Detecives has 770 pages and I will join Stu’s Henry Green week as well this month. I’m looking forward to Zennor in Darkness. Testing the waters, sort of, for you. 🙂

  2. I agree with you about The Siege. Vivid, harrowing and quite unforgettable. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to steel myself to reading the sequel. However, Zennor In Darkness has been on my TBR for an eternity, but finally its day has arrived. I look forward to the 30th.

  3. This book looks quite interesting, Caroline. I, especially, like the literary background to the war story. Happy Reading! Can’t wait to read your thoughts and the thoughts of other participants of the readalong.

  4. I have read Helen Dunmore but, alas, I didn’t get on with her. A purely personal reaction of taste – I can see she’s a good writer, but she has a queasy sort of style that doesn’t sit well with me. I find her a bit sensationalist in a way. But, as I say, that’s just me.

  5. I really wanted to join in but my library doesn’t have this one. It does have some of the later books, though, so hopefully I will get to join in sometimes. 🙂 I considered buying this, but I just bought way too many books!

    • Too bad, it would have been great and it might be very good.
      Another month then. 🙂
      I will drastically cut back on buying books this year, so I’m not trying to convince you to buy it.

  6. I have read a few books by Helen Dunmore – I like some more than others but I thought The Siege was very good. I didn’t like the sequel as much personally. Zennor in Darkness is a good one too, I read it a while ago (which means I have forgotten a lot about it!) so I will be interested in reading the discussion.

    • Oh that will be nice, if you join the discussion.
      I’m not tempted to read the sequel at all. I wouldn’t want to spoil my memory of The Siege. I have a few of her other books and am very tempted by some, “Mourning Ruby” for example.

  7. I’m really looking forward to this and have already dipped into it a little bit. I may try and start it properly this weekend (I like to read a little chunk in one sitting when I start a book). I have only read A Spell of Winter years ago, which I recall liking. I have The Siege, but it does sound harrowing!

    • I’m looking forward to be will start it after the Green as I set the discussion for Monady 30 Januray, that a bit of additional time for the review. I think I have A Spell of Winter too. The Siege is harrowing but it’s very well done but the despite the subject it is not as depressing to read as Primo Levi, for example.

  8. In a strange coincidence I am required to read Zennor in Darkness for Friday the 20th, for a course on the novel and the sea. I will be looking at the discussion here with interest.

    • Hello Sarah, I hope you will participate in the discussion, that would be interesting and should you review it, I will of course add your review. That’s an interesting topic. I’d be curious to see what other books you read for that topic.

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