When I came to review this I tried to remember what was the main factor that made me want to read this book. I know I've read numerous good reviews, and I'm always drawn to books set in Derbyshire (born there and will always have an affection for the place), but I think I actually picked it up because it was just sat on the library shelves when I was there. Just before I actually talk about the book, I did have a touch of nostalgia with some of the language. Some of it is written phonetically, and I can so imagine the way it would be spoken, and it used the word 'nesh'. I don't know how widespread this word is but it's one that I use and nobody ever knows what I mean. That may just be the people I talk to though!
Blackmoor itself as a fictional mining village that we know from the start of the novel no longer exists. It was a victim of the 1980's mine closures and eventually destroyed as the mine caused safety problems for the village. The book itself is narrated from both the present time, after the destruction of Blackmoor, and from 1970's onwards throughout the history of Blackmoor. George Cartwright is the central character of both narratives, both in Blackmoor and in Church Eaton, where he moves after the demolition of Blackmoor. But it is not just Blackmoor that we know is destroyed from the start of the book. We also know that George's wife, Beth, dies from the start of the book, although she is very much alive throughout most of the narrative.
Beth is a slightly oddball character, with her own idiosyncrasies, that don't do very much to endear her to her neighbours. Apart from the obvious difference of being albino, she makes her own clothes, has strange cravings during pregnancy, and suffers from severe postnatal depression which leads to her being hospitalised for a while. She is ostracised within the neighbourhood, and her destruction is parallelled in the destruction of Blackmoor itself. I would almost say you could count Blackmoor as a character in itself, as all the other characters who reside within the village are so integral, and in a way seemed to make it whole.
However, aside from Blackmoor, I think by far the most important character in the story is Vincent, Beth and George's son, who appears both as a small child in Blackmoor, and a reserved teenager in the sections set in the present. He took a fall out of a window as a small child and is left with a unresponsive arm from this fall, although he is not aware this is the reason. But that is not the only scars he is left with from the destruction of Blackmoor and Beth. Due to his father's reticence to talk to him about his mother, he has no knowledge of what happened to his mother and I found it fascinating to see the effect this has on him, both his sullenness because he doesn't know, and his reactions when he eventually discovers the truth.
It is probably obvious from this that I thought the characters and their reactions were the most important part of this novel. The importance of community is an important aspect too, and how a community can destroy a person with ignorance. In fact, the events of this book destroy every body's lives. Secrets, lies and hidden truths feature heavily in this book, and no in a good way. I loved it though!