Sorry for a slightly later post than normal, I actually thought I had scheduled this post to go and have only just noticed now that it hasn’t gone up. I think my brain might be slightly frazzled from the lurgy I had and a very belated spring clean to beat all spring cleans that have gone before it, and yes that includes a book cull. With the lurgy I always find I want comfortable reads or shorter ones and so I turned to a favourite author for some sickness solace and picked up ‘The Beacon’ by Susan Hill.
I have to say I love Susan Hill’s ghost stories and her Simon Serrailler crime series, her other fiction I haven’t really tried so much but with ‘The Beacon’ I was very pleased to see this is still Susan Hill on full form. I am not quite sure why I might have thought otherwise; maybe it was the fact in a way I was headed into the unknown. ‘The Beacon’ is a family drama with a difference as like a lot of Hill’s fiction, that I have read so far anyway, at the darker side of life which gives an edge to the whole novella.
As the book opens we meet May Prime who has been looking after her sick mother in the family home ‘The Beacon’ a farm in the middle of nowhere but very near a village where everyone knows you business. However when May leaves the room for some air comes back to find her mother has died. The doctor later says people often wait to die when they are alone which I had never heard before, I always thought it was only dogs and cats that did that? I digress, as May looks back over her life and indeed the family life of The Primes as a unit the tale of her siblings Colin, Berenice and particularly brother Frank starts to slowly emerge. Only hinted at from the beginning we come to learn that Frank is an unusual child, almost an outcast Prime by choice, and that as the book goes one something dark and shocking is awaiting us. What that is I would love to share, as I could discuss it till the cows come home, however you need to read the book knowing nothing to really get the benefit of all that comes after.
I am always in awe of any authors who can weave great tales, especially if they have dark twists and turns, in very few pages and draw them fully as if you had read a 700 page book instead. ‘The Beacon’, for me at least, is one such book. The characters are defined by minor actions; the sibling’s characters become all the more apparent as May reveals their childhoods, reactions to their mother’s death then enhance them. The fact you feel you have lived May’s life with her, in a matter of fifty pages, leading up to her mother’s death I thought was most impressive. Death is also a large theme in the book not only in its physicality but also in the emotions a death leaves behind be they grief, freedom or even both.
If you haven’t read Susan Hill before I think this might just be the book to give a try. In just over 150 pages she creates a fantastic story and shows her ability to create great character, atmosphere, tension and a twist or two. If you don’t like it, which I would find hard to imagine, then you have only spent an hour or two on the book – it really is that quick to read, I couldn’t put it down. Its also the kind of book you will be thinking about long after you have shut the final page.
A book that will; grab you in from the start, possibly shock you and leave you thinking. 9/10
Savidge suggests perfect prose partners;
A Start in Life by Anita Brookner – I wouldn’t naturally put Hill and Brookner together probably because I have spent most of my time reading ‘spooky Hill’ or ‘thriller Hill’ but there was something about May’s story that resonated with me in the same way Ruth did in ‘A Start in Life’ though their backgrounds are nothing alike.
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark – If you haven’t tried many novella’s I think this might be my very favourite so far. Like with ‘The Beacon’ this is a book with a rather dark heart, that catches you out when you least expect it.
What novels of Susan Hill’s have any of you read? Which ones have you loved? What other great novella’s can you recommend, as they are sometimes something that I struggle with?