Saturday 15 February 2020


I have now finished reading Jayne Anne Phillips's Quiet Dell, and I'm happy to report that the light I had hoped for was indeed shining, with steadily increasing radiance, in its darkness. The horror and evil at the core of the novel are balanced by love and goodness, and the misery by a hard-won happiness – happiness that proverbially 'writes white'*, but here writes in rich colours. [Spoiler alert] The journalist, Emily, and the banker, William, entirely believably fall in love – the moment when it happens is quite electrifying – and Emily, having already adopted the murdered family's dog, then adopts a homeless boy off the streets, and gives him a new life. And she and William, we can be pretty sure, live happily ever after, not quite married (there are complications) but as good as. And there are happy endings too for Charles, the murdered children's surrogate uncle, and Eric, Emily's charming colleague.
All this may sound as if Phillips ends her novel in a mist of Dickensian sentimentality, but in the context of what these happy events are counterbalancing, it is necessary and it works. As one reviewer wrote, 'There is evil in the world, but there are some who will stand in its way', and, in the end, somehow, goodness will prevail. The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.

* Actually it derives from Henry de Montherland: 'Happiness writes in white ink on white paper.'

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