Hancock, Penny - 'The Darkening Hour'
Mona has left her young daughter under her mother's care and travelled from her beloved Morocco to London to care for Theodora's ageing father. The two women's lives couldn't be more different: one poor and in desperate need for the money to care for and provide the means to educate her beloved daughter, to pay for the urgently required operation for her mother and to find her missing husband who might be in London, and the other from a privileged moneyed background who was drowning under the care of her father, mourning the sudden loss of her mother and trying to cope with a bored, wayward son from her failed marriage.
The similarities between the two women's over-whelming worries, the need they had for what the other could offer were brought out as the story developed. Mona who, due to lack of opportunity, only had the skills for domestic work, poorly paid, exploited and looked down on in whichever country she was in. She cares though and tends Theodora's father with grace and compassion and extends this to both Theodora and Leo, the difficult teenager who takes his anger at the world on everyone round him. Mona quickly uses her skills to bring the house back to life, clean, glowing and welcoming and Theodora, while appreciating that Mona has released her from her cares enabling her to enjoy her relationship with her lover, Max, and to devote more time to her beloved job as a radio presenter is never satisfied. She piles more and more tasks on Mona and what could have been a mutually supportive relationship, sours.
As each woman gets more desperate, something must give and when a death occurs, they are tied closer to each other more than is comfortable.
This is not an easy read, but a real page turner, dealing with big themes such as how different cultures approach the care of the elderly, abuse of domestic servants and modern day slavery, and the cult of never being satisfied. The book is well written, with a sense of imminent disaster that builds page by page. We are given alternate viewpoints, often the same incident but through the eyes of each of the women. This style doesn't always work but here the author uses it very well and through it we learn more about the backgrounds and thought processes of the women.
Mona is very sympathetically written, Theodora less so. One cannot help but feel sorry for Mona, forced to leave her beloved family behind as she struggles to earn money for their needs and to find her beloved Ali, whom she is convinced has not abandoned her but is being prevented from being with her. I also felt a rising sympathy for Theodora, as trapped as Mona in her way but by her own self-absorption, lack of empathy and paranoia.
The writing and the themes remind me of Barbara Vine and Sophie Hannah, and this, only the second novel from this writer, sits very well against such good and compelling writers.
Susan White, England
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