REVIEW: The Twilight Child by Elizabeth Harris
Her husband, Will, is away fighting, and, alone in their cottage in the Sussex village of Firlebury, she waits anxiously for news. Her worries increase when, accompanying the gift of an antique cradle, come mysterious visions of an older, darker, Firlebury.
Then she meets Gabriel, a soldier like Will, who seems to offer the support and comfort she so desperately needs. In this twilight world of alluring beauty and brutal savagery, is she awake, or is she dreaming?
When her son, Michael, is born, Clare realises the full power of the darkness stealthily surrounding her and her child. As the forces of an ancient evil gather about her with terrifying violence, it seems that the mysterious Gabriel alone can help — but only at the risk of jeopardizing everything she holds dear …
Dear Ms. Harris,
As this is the third novel of yours I’ve read, I can detect similarities but also differences with each one. It’s easy to see the influences of your degrees in English and Archeology in the writing and historical details. But the degree in psychology adds the mental shivers I sometimes get at the paranormal mixed with the horror at ancient things which can still call to primeval fears and urges.
Though there is some romance in the story, it’s more women’s fiction than anything else. Well, historical women’s fiction crossed with a lot more paranormal than the other books I’ve read so far. Clare Stevenson recalls her whirlwind courtship with a young man soon swept off into the Royal Artillery and the battlefields of North Africa – though of course Clare isn’t meant to know that what with wartime censorship. Now she’s living in a tiny Sussex village in a mostly restored ancient cottage she and Will found and bought before he was shipped out.
She’s also pregnant and dealing with the day to day drudgery of rations as well as finding baby supplies. One of her needs is unexpectedly and quickly met when an older woman offers the use of a family cradle. Lily Carpenter is that example of unruffled, older English womanhood who lives in a cottage which crouches amidst a riotous garden tucked in an ancient grove of oak trees. But is that all Lily is?
Clare’s baby is born on the evening of October 31st: a Samhain child. Resting in the borrowed carved wooden cradle, Michael is a lovely, temperate baby. Clare’s vicar Uncle Heywood, who has an interest in all religions, investigates the medal imbedded in the headboard – that of a medieval saint renowned for her healing abilities. As long as he’s laying in it, Michael is an easy baby, seldom crying or fussy. Clare meanwhile, has begun to have nightmare dreams which seem to take place in the village, on the green, down by a dark menacing pond and which occur on the major celebratory days of the Celtic religion that once ruled the land.
When Will is reported missing in action, Clare enters a living purgatory. Not knowing if her husband is dead or alive, she joins other wartime Britons in waiting for news, hoping and praying. While she tries to hold her life together, villagers help her including one young man who appears randomly and calms her fears. Clare feels an instant connection with Gabriel, as he seems to feel for her but she can’t, she’s married, this can never proceed. The menace of her dreams increases and mixed with the information Uncle Heywood uncovers, Clare begins to fear a timeless evil desires her child, the child born at twilight, on Samhain and thus possessed of the power of the worlds of both the living and the dead.
I think the persuasiveness of the story comes from the fact that it takes it’s time to build the paranormal. Little things progress to slightly larger and onwards but still there are logical explanations, possibilities that Clare uses to reason away the things she shies from believing. It couldn’t be that no, no it must only be this innocuous thing, this dream – and we all know dreams can be strange. We learn along with Clare, are slowly inculcated into these ancient practices from time immemorial when powerful gods had to be propitiated and thanked with blood sacrifices and worship.
The fact that the rest of the story is so grounded in historical feel and facts serves to center it while at the same time highlighting the terror Clare feels as she fights to save her child and those who love her. We may think we’ve moved far past the superstitions and unease of a world that seems out of our control, but this story makes me pause and wonder if we really have. B