Black Sheep- Susan Hill

I was keen to read a novel by Susan Hill as she is a new writer for me and initially thought this slim volume would be an easy read. The novel is set in a mining community of unspecified location; the village called Mount Zeal is set on a hill, and comprises Upper Terrace called Paradise, Middle and Lower Terrace. The biblical references continue with the pit being Hell, both in terms of the physical nature of the pit, but also as a place which consumes men’s lives. The story is that of the Howker family and their lives in the mining community and specifically the story of Rose and Ted, who in different ways rebel against the norms and expectations of the community, Rose in her emotional life and Ted by refusing to go down the pit and seeking a job instead with a sheep farmer. They are both punished for their transgression in the denouement. Within the novel there are some wonderful pieces of writing; Susan Hill creates intimacy and evokes emotion in the reader when Rose strokes the tablecloth she has been given for her bottom drawer and Ted hides his treasured tin under the floorboards. Similarly she depicts older members of the community and their resignation in illness very movingly. I felt that the briefness of the novel given its time span made some of the characterisation not quite plausible and the plot development quite sketchy, but then the impact of the ending, with its barbarity and the visceral evocation of fear is of quite a different order. This slim volume was no easy read at all.

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