A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Left or right? Yes or no? Car or train? Decisions we take every day, both large and small, can affect people we don’t know in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.
In That Dark Remembered Day a young man, fresh out of school and with very little sense of direction, decides on the spur of the moment to join the army.
Several years later in Argentina a failing military junta elects to gamble its survival on the UK not retaliating if it makes a move to reclaim the Falkland Islands.
What that young man experienced during the Falklands War would eventually result in incomprehensible horror descending on a quiet market town in middle England: in lives destroyed, families shattered and a shadow cast forever over an entire community.
It would have been perilously easy for Tom Vowler to have cheapened and sensationalized both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the havoc caused to ordinary lives when a damaged mind spins out of control; but in fact That Dark Remembered Day is a thoughtful and subtle study of both the perpetrator and his victims, pointing no fingers, offering up no morals and leaving you to make up you own mind as to where the blame, if any, lies.
The story is a simple one. Stephen, an apparently contented husband and father, has to return to his home town when his mother falls seriously ill. In doing so, he’s forced to confront the demons that have haunted him since childhood and which now threaten to destroy everything of value in his life. His story is revealed to us by degrees via a converging time line – a literary device that can disrupt the flow if handled badly but which produces a real page-turner if deployed well.
Here, the device works flawlessly and the result is a tightly written novel – a true psychological thriller that neither sacrifices action for navel-gazing nor thoughtful observation for narrative drive. The characters throughout are finely drawn, showing a nuanced understanding of how human beings come to terms with the unimaginable.
There are two ways of reacting to tragedy: one is to take a good long look at what happened then file it quietly in the drawer marked ‘Experience’ and get on with your life, the other is to allow it to overwhelm and consume you.
It’s greatly to Tom Vowler’s credit – and a testament to his skill as a novelist – that we care very much which path Stephen will ultimately take.
Headline. 2014. ISBN: 978075392247. 320pp. (Ebook: 978-755392254.)
(Tom Vowler will be talking to Vulpes Libris on Friday.)