Publication Date: 6th July (reissue) from Faber and Faber
Source: Review Copy
Louise would give anything – anything – for a good night’s sleep. Forget the girls running errant in the garden and bothering the neighbours. Forget her husband who seems oblivious to it all. If the baby would just stop crying, everything would be fine.
Or would it? What if Louise’s growing fears about the family’s new lodger, who seems to share all of her husband’s interests, are real? What could she do, and would anyone even believe her? Maybe, if she could get just get some rest, she’d be able to think straight.
In a new edition of this lost classic, The Hours Before Dawn proves – scarily – as relevant to readers today as it was when Celia Fremlin first wrote it in the 1950s.
I read this brilliant and vintage novel in one big gulp of a sitting this afternoon – positively beautiful writing, immensely creepy yet wittily hilarious in places, Celia Fremlin gives a masterclass in the genre of Domestic Noir years before Domestic Noir was a thing.
Winner of the 1960 Edgar award for best mystery novel (and you can see why) The Hours Before Dawn follows one tired young mother as she tries to differentiate between lack of sleep and actual danger – all the while the author describes the role of wife and mother of those times perfectly with humour and grace. Louise is all women who have ever had small children and a relatively useless husband to deal with – we can all relate to that surreal edge of the world feeling you get when you’ve been up half the night for endless nights. Is that a real shadow hanging over the family in the shape of a seemingly innocuous lodger or is Louise just so damned tired that everything seems horrifying? The path to the truth of the matter is an often laugh out loud funny but always very off kilter one and I loved every single word of this book.
It was so refreshing to read a story set in a time where there are no mobile phones that the protagonist can forget to charge/lose/have no signal in order to push the narrative, a time where mental illness was not automatically assumed to be at the heart of any character’s issues with reality, where indeed almost all of the oft used plot devices in modern domestic noir are unavailable. The Hours Before Dawn is all the more authentic for it and whilst I’m sure if I read other such books written in the same time they may take on the same blur of repetitiveness for the moment I’m relishing in the unusual and original storytelling technique. It is beautifully done for sure so I will now most definitely be reading this authors other works. In fact it will be a pleasure I shall look forward to with much anticipation.
I loved how Celia Fremlin builds the family relationships- Louise and her husband have a strong, solid marriage (another breath of fresh air) , he is useless not because of a lack of care and affection for his wife, but because of the time he lived in where more traditional roles were the norm. She is not a domestic goddess, I often snorted at some very realistic asides on the vagaries of having dinner ready whilst answering obscure and insistent questions from your youngsters and soothing a fractious baby, but all the while there is this underlying menace pervading the story. Louise knows something is wrong but doesn’t know what. The author creates this creepy vibe with darker prose invading the lighter moments, those corner of the eye type times that work so much better than obvious and insistent cues.
Before I sign off I’d like to give a shout out to that brilliant cover – which is gorgeous but takes on new meaning after one particular scene from the novel – look at it again after you have read the book.
The Hours Before Dawn was truly brilliant, both in style and substance and I really can’t recommend it highly enough.