Thursday 31 January 2019

#BlogTour A Small Dark Quiet by Miranda Gold

Today it's my turn on the BlogTour A Small Dark Quiet by Miranda Gold. It's literary fiction with an entire story built out of memories, emotional turmoil, fear and distress. There is no doubt that poor Arthur will remain with readers long after finishing the book.

About the Author
Concert pianist in a parallel universe, novelist in this, Miranda Gold is a woman whose curiosity about the instinct in us all to find and tell stories qualifies her to do nothing but build worlds out of words.

Miranda’s first love was theatre and advises anyone after a dose of laughter in dark (along with a ferocious lesson in subtext) to look no further than the cheese sandwich in Pinter’s The Homecoming. No less inspiring were the boisterous five year olds she taught drama to and the youth groups she supported to workshop and stage their scripts. Both poetry and its twin, music, have been fundamental in her process as a writer and her hope is that the novel can tap into some of their magic to unleash the immediacy and visceral power of language – qualities that keep the reader on the page as well as turning it. Gatsby, To the Lighthouse and The Ballad of the Sad CafĂ© are books she will always come back to, always finding another door left ajar. Having the opportunity to mentor prisoners at Pentonville reaffirmed for her the connections that can be made when we find a narrative and a shape that can hold experience. There have been fleeting fantasies of becoming a Flamenco dancer, but sadly she has the coordination of an inebriated jelly fish.

Her first novel, Starlings, published by Karnac (2016) reaches back through three generations to explore how the impact of untold stories ricochets down the years. In her review for The Tablet, Sue Gaisford described Starlings as “a strange, sad, original and rather brilliant first novel, illumined with flashes of glorious writing and profound insight, particularly into the ways in which we attempt to reinvent ourselves.” Before turning her focus to fiction, Miranda attended the Soho Course for young writers where her play, Lucky Deck, was selected for development and performance.

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Buy A Small Dark Quiet

About the book
March, 1945. The ravaged face of London will soon be painted with victory, but for Sylvie, the private battle for peace is just beginning. When one of her twins is stillborn, she is faced with a consuming grief for the child she never had a chance to hold. A Small Dark Quiet follows a mother as she struggles to find the courage to rebuild her life and care for an orphan whom she and her husband, Gerald, adopt two years later.

Born in a concentration camp, the orphan’s early years appear punctuated with frail speculations, opening up a haunting space that draws Sylvie to bring him into parallel with the child she lost. When she gives the orphan the stillborn child’s name, this unwittingly entangles him in a grief he will never be able to console. His own name has been erased, his origins blurred. Arthur’s preverbal trauma begins to merge with the loss he carries for Sylvie, released in nightmares and fragments of emerging memories to make his life that of a boy he never knew. He learns all about ‘that other little Arthur’, yearning both to become him and to free himself from his ghost. He can neither fit the shape of the life that has been lost nor grow into the one his adopted father has carved out for him.

As the novel unfolds over the next twenty years, Arthur becomes curious about his Jewish heritage, but fears what this might entail – drawn towards it, it seems he might find a sense of communion and acceptance, but the chorus of persecutory voices he has internalised becomes too overwhelming to bear. He is threatened as a child with being sent back where he belongs but no one can tell him where this is. He wanders as an adult looking for purpose but is unable to find his place. Feeling an imposter both at home and in the city, Arthur’s yearning for that sense of belonging echoes in our own time.

Meeting Lydia seems to offer Arthur the opportunity to recast himself, yet all too soon he is trapped in a repetition of what he was trying to escape. A past he can neither recall nor forget lives on within him even as he strives to forge a life for himself. Survival, though, insists Arthur keeps searching and as he opens himself to the world around him, there are flashes of just how resilient the human heart can be.

Through Sylvie’s unprocessed grief and Arthur’s acute sense of displacement, A Small Dark Quiet explores how the compulsion to fill the empty space death leaves behind ultimately makes the devastating void more acute. Yet however frail, the instinct for empathy and hope persists in this powerful story of loss, migration and the search for belonging.

There are a lot of things going on in this story. Sylvie simply never recovers from the loss of her baby in childbirth and subsequently has mental health issues, which are compounded by lack of medical help and an abusive husband. Gerald is a man damaged by war, frustrated with his wife and conflicted by his religion, all of which he takes out on his wife and children.

Arthur, the new Arthur, wants to discover who he is as a person, including getting closer to his religious roots and finding faith as a new family to orientate himself by. There is also part of him that wants to know where he comes from, and although the truth is alluded to here and there, he never seems to want the answers enough. His fear of the truth and fear of being returned to the unknown place of his nightmares, keeps him from moving forward.

I can actually understand why Gold didn't give Arthur more of a story, because the sad truth is he is just one of many displaced children with no identity and annihilated biological roots. Sometimes there was no way to trace the origins, especially during the tragic circumstances of World War 2.

One of the other interesting elements of the story is the way Gerald views his own religion. Born and raised in the Jewish faith, the events of the war have made him question  and hate his own faith. Being labelled a Jew means to be a target. It means being vulnerable, so he reinvents himself and his family. Not an unusual reaction after the Holocaust. Many Jews changed their names, identities and hid their faith going forward, so they and their families would never become targets of hatred again.

So, here's the thing. With this story the reader always, almost constantly, feels as if they are on the cusp of something. The cusp of the sanity Sylvie grasps for on occasion, the cusp of Arthur discovering his truth, the cusp of any member of that household speaking something other than the illusion of happiness, the cusp of Arthur melding into his history and religion and the cusp of Gerald losing complete control.

And the hanging on to the cusp of so many storylines is both the issue for me and in equal measures what makes it an unusual read. The kind of read that makes people sit up and go hmm. I want to know, I want to go beyond the cusp. I want answers to my questions. I don't want to hang in mid-air with a sense of dissatisfaction. I want the characters to know, discover, acknowledge and live through their truths. Tell me the rest of your story.

The question is why Gold has chosen to give them some story, but not all of the story. I guess the answer is somewhere between reality and fiction. It's literary fiction with an entire story built out of memories, emotional turmoil, fear and distress. There is no doubt that poor Arthur will remain with readers long after finishing this book.

Buy A Small Dark Quiet at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.
Publisher: Unbound Digital (4 Dec. 2018)

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