Friday, December 31, 2010

Forgotten Book Friday: The Hours Before Dawn

It's been some time since Miss Lemon has offered something for 'Forgotten Book Friday.' With the New Year 2011 right round the corner, perhaps it's time she got back into the habit. And what better book to suggest for the occasion than Celia Fremlin's gothic suspense chiller, The Hours Before Dawn (1958).

Exhausted with the care of her infant son, Michael, whom she can't get to settle through the night, and two young girls, Louise Henderson feels like her life is unraveling. Her husband feels neglected, her neighbours complain, and she can't keep up with the endless household tasks.

When the Hendersons decide to take in a lodger, Vera Brandon, Louise in her sleepless stupor wonders if she isn't imagining things: like Vera creeping into Michael's room when she said that she would be going out; Vera's seducing of her husband; a nagging feeling that she's somehow met Vera Brandon somewhere before.....

Anyone who has read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper will be sure to sympathize with Louise's mounting terror. Is she really going mad, or does Vera Brandon intentionally mean her harm?

Though the subject matter does not readily suggest it, Ms. Fremlin is a keen observer of human nature, and her prose is evidence of her extraordinarily sharp wit. Her most brilliant portrayals are those of the children, especially Harriet, who sets tea out in the hallway (where it is inevitably trod upon) for her Teddy yet argues with the inexorable logic of a Socrates.

It is a wonder and a shame to Miss Lemon that Celia Fremlin is today largely forgotten. One could do worse than to resolve to remember her in the New Year.


  1. It's a pleasure to see this mentioned! I discovered Celia Fremlin last year and I've since tracked down and devoured all of her novels. Some are better than others (she throws in an occasional cliffhanger ending, which is irritating) but she's really an excellent writer - very funny, humane, and very suspenseful. The Hours Before Dawn is one of her best, I think, along with The Long Shadow and Listening in the Dusk.

    Vera Brandon is a brilliantly developed character, and the novel's climax is gloriously Gothic, but I agree that the best part of this is the portrayal of Louise and the minor characters - the children and the gossipy neighbors (I'm particularly fond of Magda).

  2. Thank you for your kind feedback. Miss Lemon was thinking of perhaps reading Jealous One next ... what did you think of it?

  3. The Jealous One is excellent; it was the first of hers I've read, and still one of my favorites. The ending, especially, is brilliant.

  4. I discovered this book after it was mentioned on the ABE Booksleuth forum--so well crafted, and slowly getting creepier and creepier. And as a parent, I enjoyed the glimpse into child-rearing during the 1950's. I have some more of her books on hold--so grateful to have a library that keeps their old books and makes them accessible to the public.