In The Light in the Dark, Horatio Clare tries to be more positive about our most difficult season. It is a surprisingly moving book. Clare is remarkably candid about his mental-health issues, which can be exacerbated in the dark winter months. This journal marked his attempt to find joy, rather than dread, in the winter of 2017–2018.
Although we’ve never met, Clare and I are fellow offcumdens to Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, so I recognise the landscape and weather he describes so beautifully. I live high on the steep valley side, where there is still a reasonable amount of light in mid-winter; Clare lives in the valley bottom, which, in the winter months, when the sun is low in the sky, can grow almost as gloomy as Todmorden in mid-summer.
Clare’s attempt to be more positive about winter receives a nasty jolt only a few days into his journal, when badger-baiters kill sheep on his mother’s Welsh farm—seemingly in an attempt to intimidate her. There are other dark moments, as Clare struggles with his demons, but there is also plenty of joy. In particular, Clare’s interactions with his young son, Aubrey, left this blissfully child-free reader surprisingly moved.
The narrative sometimes flips into flashback, with reminiscences from Italy and France, and to Liverpool, where Clare lectures a couple of days each week, staying at the legendary Adelphi Hotel, where I once witnessed a colleague so unimpressed with his dinner portion that he went back for thirds.
In the end, Clare is only partially successful at staving off the winter blues, but he emerges into spring more positively than he might have, which I guess would have seemed a more than acceptable outcome at the start of winter.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.
“…wonderfully droll, witty and entertaining… At their best Carter’s moorland walks and his meandering intellectual talk are part of a single, deeply coherent enterprise: a restless inquiry into the meaning of place and the nature of self.”
—Mark Cocker, author and naturalist
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