Through the Lonesome Dark by Paddy Richardson – 2017

Pansy, Clem and Otto are inseparable mates in the West IMG_0247
Coast coalmining town of Blackball pre the Great War. The children have quite different home lives, Pansy having the worst of it by far – her father being a cruel drunk who abuses his wife and whose view of society would make him feel right at home in A handmaid’s tale. To make matters worse Pansy is full of promise, and with a supportive family she would have gone far, but she ends up in service. There’s nothing new in Pansy’s story, but it is well told.  The novel then switches point of view and we follow Clem off to war – he is a sympathetic character, but his reasons for enlisting are appalling. And his decision is seen as a betrayal by his ‘workers of the world unite’ dad. Clem goes from digging in the mines to digging tunnels for the allies, and his section of the book is again well told and textured, with lots of interesting characters.  I would have preferred to continue Pansy’s story while Clem was off at war, and also for Otto’s story to be told. We hear what happens to Otto but he doesn’t have a ‘voice’, which unbalanced the book for me. Also the author plays around with time sequences a bit, which is effective in keeping you concentrating while reading, but one twist to the story really had me struggling to fit it into the timeline.  And another twist I was sure would be revealed, drawing all three characters back together, never was. There is much in this novel that had me engrossed, but I would have preferred it to be longer, for it to give the reader a chance to be part of all three children’s lives and destinies, not just a slice of two of them, and for it to explore more the effect of the First World War on the lives and politics of small town New Zealand communities.

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