The Darkest Hour – Barbara Erskine Book Review



Barbara_Erskine

This is Barbara Erskine’s thirteenth tale – so I was expecting ghosts and time travel and I was not disappointed – in her usual style there are two stories running together in different times. I have read a couple of her novels – Hiding in the Light being one of my favourites so I was thrilled to spot this in Waterstones last weekend.

We have the story of Evie trying to make her name as a War Painter during the Battle of Britain. She has an arrangement with a neighbour called Eddie who has enough connections in the Art World to help her to achieve fame and fortune. However she meets Tony a pilot stationed at nearby Westhampnet and they fall in love. Of course no romance had a smooth course and this one has twists and turns that are only unravelled in the present day where Lucy is researching Evie’s life story for a biography – after her husband purchases one of Evie’s paintings. Sadly Lucy’s husband is killed in a hit and run accident which makes Lucy determined to complete the book. She makes contact with Evie’s family – who fall into two categories, those willing to help and support her book and those who are hostile. (There appears no room for middle ground!). Lucy is given access to a lot of Evie’s possessions including Evie’s home and art Studio – we begin to follow Evie’s story back through time and in Lucy’s research.

We have several ghosts – but these won’t keep you awake at night, Erskine writes novels that are more about unfinished business than hammer house horror.

If you want to read for yourself, best stop there and come back in case I spoil the story for you! 

I started this book as soon as I came back from the bookshop – I was immersed immediately and could not put it down – I found Lucy a likeable character and found Evie’s life interesting as she struggled with farm tasks and painting. What attracted me to this novel was that she had written about my local area, Lucy’s art gallery was based in Chichester – and the Battle of Britain played out across the Sussex Downs with several small airfields locally were the back drop for Evie’s tale.

I found the plot and storylines plausible but then midway through the book I found my enthusiasm waning.

I think I was frustrated – Evie’s section of the tale was getting repetitive, I lost count of the number of times Evie and Tony could not meet, wrote notes to each other saying they could not meet, only for them to meet briefly and the whole thing repeat itself. Her life was dull, milking cows, and painting – she only went out once and that was when she met Tony. Rachel (her mother) was more real, but I found the wailing haunting really odd, as was the woman living in the house in the present day.

Evie never really came across as a full bodied character – she was passive, it was hard to relate to her. I thought it might have been better if we could have had some of her diary entries written in the first person – I needed to understand how she ticked, what she felt – it was all in the third person so she never really came alive.

When she was laying with Tony in the thunderstorm was the closest we had to understanding Evie she was wildly exuberant, it would have been nice for them to have spent more time together, so that the depth of their feelings was understandable. Maybe even meetings where they felt soul to soul – instead they simply met and fell in love. Tony creeping in the house at night to her upstairs bedroom was odd, it did not seem likely that Evie’s father would have tolerated that for one minute – I imagine any man would take that as an insult to his household. Tony would have been a bit of a cad for doing that sort of thing. Why did it have to be sex, why not the pictures or a local dance?

There were other elements of the story that I began to struggle with:

Lucy’s story was more interesting, but she was also passive. Other supporting characters drove the story, dealt with the ghosts, dropped research into her hands – everyone was rallying round her and she really did not do much to bring the story together, in the end I was irritated by her. I thought that Caroline had more substance, I knew what motivated her, she had passion whereas Lucy seemed to drift through her research as she drifted through everyone else’s home.

I also found it odd that despite Lucy’s husband dying in the first few pages, she never misses him and falls in love quite easily! (I’m not telling you who – read it and see!)

Yet, I enjoyed it because I read it solidly for a week – there was enough of a mystery to keep me guessing and it did all come together.

I believe I learned quite a lot from this book – the story itself was very good – I love two stories and unravelling mysteries. I also like to believe that ghosts have unfinished business!

I would recommend it to my friends, they may not have the same reservations – I would love to hear from other readers about how they found it.

Hiding from the light

I can recommend Hiding from the Light – I thought it was one of her best. About the Witch-finder General – a haunted cottage and of course Witches and ghosts!

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Falling in love with shiny!

 

I am not a Bree Van-de-Kamp, the Desperate Housewife with the perfect home, but there are times when I realise that I need to do something about the layers of dust and the kitchen floor appears to be changing colour!
 Housework is something that I seem to avoid – yet oddly enough when I spend time cleaning I actually find I enjoy it. (yes you did read that correctly, the word enjoy and housework in the same sentence!)
I have fallen in love with sparkly, and it is very easy to achieve, takes no elbow grease and is not hazardous to health. It is a simple mix of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda.

 

This is not my kitchen but one that is set up in the grounds of the Weald and Down Museum in nearby West Dean, I thought it illustrates to me just how much simpler and easier housework has become. Hot water at the turn of a tap – washing machines and electric kettles, it has never been an easier time to be a housewife. I believe that simple household products that have seen years of use. This little kitchen set up goes back to early in the 1900s.

 

Looking at the simple ingredients that were at the disposal of the housewife in her struggle to keep the house free from infection – it  made me ponder just how far we have come to rely on the ‘selling power of science’ We trust the cleaning products that abound on the supermarket shelf are safe and effective to use.These companies are in business to make money, they use enough science to convince us that their product will be the best, and easiest to use.
There are no restrictions on cleaning products for the home it may surprise you they are able to sell these above what would be considered a health risk if it were sold commercially. There have been links with air fresheners and cancer risks, and I believe that if our bodies cough to expel something that has been sprayed into an aerosol into our smallest room then it is pretty likely the substance we are ingesting might not be in good health.
Its easy to get everything sparkly, just spray with vinegar and sprinkle over bicarbonate! You can scrub a little, then wash down with water. Buff and sit back and admire a lovely shine! It lasts for a few days too. No coughing, no nasty chemicals, gentle on the purse too!

ttfn x

Forties style

 

Dresses used fabric economically
Dresses used fabric economically

Remember that wonderful dressing up box we used to have as children? Well the great thing is that we can have this feeling every day. The wave of Vintage style I believe is our desire to go back to dressing in a feminine way, and possibly some of the old fashioned values.

I go dancing to a wonderful venue in Brighton, it is set up just like a 1940’s dance and I really enjoy dressing for the occasion. I am at heart an old fashioned girl, I love to look feminine, I love hats, wool coats and summer dresses and I find it so wonderful that at last we can all dress in this style and for it to be accepted. I still get some rather odd glances at times but mostly I am thrilled that many people will compliment me in the street!

The difficulty I have is deciding what style I like, I do enjoy the victory rolls and fabulous music of the 1940s and love swing dancing, but I also enjoy the upbeat notes of the fifties which leaves me smiling just listening to it and the sheer joy of spinning with a circle skirt! Then again, I’ll watch Downton Abbey and swoon at the gorgeous cloche hats….

Being able to sew opens up a whole heap of possibilities, there are many wonderful retro stores available now, but I find its the detailing that really hits the note for me. So after that rather lengthy introduction here are some elements that might help you to ‘revamp’ a modern dress and introduce elements that can give you a more authentic look.

 

Single breasted, four gore skirt
Single breasted, four gore skirt

As you can see from this pattern the jackets were single breasted, skirts were made up of several pieces, often with seams at the front sides and back, this cut allowed the maker to cut more economically, as the pieces would be smaller.

 

 

A big feature of forties fashion was a yoke

A big feature that stands out in most of the forties fashion was the shoulder yoke, it reflected the male shirt, but was softened by details like bows and cuffs. Dresses had shorter sleeves (also an economy of fabric) finishing just above the elbow.

Use of drape
Use of drape

Forties fashion diverges – American Patterns was cut off from the influence of Paris, did not have the same restrictions as in Britain so you can often see more generous cuts and elements of the 30’s bias cut in US patterns at the time.

If you want to make your dress have an authentic forties feel, look to the sleeve cap, often this was full giving the sleeve a boxy look (a good balancer if you are pear shaped). You can see it more in the knitwear designs from that period.

What ever you decide, the important thing to remember is to have fun

ttfn xx

Talking French

The photograph above illustrates what is frustrating about the underwear widely available – it is just so unflattering! It distorts the model’s rather lovely shape her cheeks are poking out from the bottom, they cut across the widest part of her body in a band -these knickers sabotage your sexiness  no matter what your size. It does make me wonder just what manufacturers are thinking and why we put up with it. It is nigh on impossible to buy anything else, so fortunately being able to sew means I am not restricted to what is available in the shops. 

You can buy these from ‘What Katie did‘ 
French knickers on the other hand begin at the smallest part – the waist, and follow a woman’s curves gently to finish just at the top of the leg. This makes everyone look beautiful it works with the lines of the female form rather than against them. 

You can buy these from ‘What Katie did’
Of course what comes as a shock when you pick up a pair or make your own – is that they seem huge! 
Used to these mean strips of fabric, the volumes of lace or satin are a big difference but stick with it.  Once you have something around your natural waistline and not cutting across your hips, you will find your ‘muffin’ top becomes a distant memory. 
It feels wonderful to have knickers around the waist again, that you might find you never go back. Make them out of stain or silk, and you have a whole beautiful sensation as it flows round your hips. 
They are bliss to wear under a summer dress as they are cool and have no visible panty line. Of course your man will find it irresistible, all that wonderful accessibility will be on his mind! 

Available from ‘What Katie Did’
The French knickers here are from What Katie Did, they ship world wide, but they are very easy to make. 
You are simply making light, airy shorts which in the warmer weather make summer dresses a pleasure to wear. Especially if you are a little more generously proportioned as I am. Last year in Vienna the temperatures were very high, I had put on a little weight and was shocked at how my thighs rubbed together and became extremely sore. French knickers are perfect for solving this problem as the fabric takes the ‘rub’. In addition if you suffer from Thrush or cystitis they really do help prevent these occurring.  
I will be blogging next how you can make your own glorious pairs of your own – its quick and easy, I made two pairs in an afternoon! And the fabric requirements are not big at all. 

Knit witts!

I have just started knitting again after many years – I learnt to knit when I was about 8 or 9, it seemed to come naturally to me and even now there is a beautiful state of meditation and calm as I pass the wool round the needles and see the gentle progression of my garment. 
Jumpers these days are not made in the traditional sense, look at any jumper and you will discover that it is made in a similar way to a dress would be, only using a fine knitted material to make up its jumper like appearance. 
For years, I have had a sense of disillusionment, most knits are shapeless, despite their delightful elasticity – it appears the trend is for mostly shapeless garments that do not flatter anyone’s figure. 
Take this one for example, it bulges at the hips, cuts across the widest part of the body (which in this model is tiny) and does nothing for her at all apart from hide her body away. In an ordinary woman this would be a disaster, the stripes running across the body would accentuate and make anyone look wider than they are, and the drooping shoulder would make her look as if she was slouching. Now I am not a prig, this is a nice bright jumper for days when you want to curl up on a sofa, with a cup of tea, an open fire and good book, but it could do both – it could flatter the body rather than fattening it! 
You would imagine Chanel would get things right, but look at the hip line, with that very chunky rib, the model is tiny but it makes her look bigger than she is. While the lace insert detail at the back is lovely, this could have been made to fit closer to the body, the black hole at the bottom indicates that there is a gap – and the folds you can see at the back would be resting on the rise of the bottom….. not flattering at all! 
This is from this season, and a knitting magazine so it should get things right, but in this case it doesn’t – she looks absolutely enormous, there is no shape and the short length makes her look as if she has outgrown it. Now I can understand the lovely sixties vibe that comes out of this but what is it doing for this girl? It doesn’t flatter at all. 
Doesn’t she look lovely? That gorgeous neckline accentuates her collarbone, and you can see she is a woman – the style is making her neck look long, the delicate sleeves enhance the curve of her chest and out to her arms. This flatters her shape and makes her look feminine, she is not disappearing under a shapeless jumper. 
This makes stunning use of the stitch and the properties of knitting, I love the structure the rib gives and the way it reflects the bias cut style of the 1930’s. Notice too that it finishes just below the waist, not at the hip, this is kinder to body and gives rise to curves without distorting the size of the hip. The upright direction of the rib on the lower half has a slimming effect, and while the shaping enhances the bust, it does it subtly. 
Vintage patters make knitwear sexy, yes you read that right, sexy. Imagine you can be warm and sexy how good would that be! 
Look at the complexity of the patterns created, how they used the knitting to create puff sleeves, frills and curves. Thank goodness for the current Vintage trend, it has allowed us all to re-claim the lost art of knitting, to be inventive and use it to enhance our bodies. 
This was a next jumper that was in the shops last year, and it shows that the current desire for more fitted styles are in demand. No matter what shape you were, this little jumper would have made you beautiful, as the lovely ribbing enhances the waist, the lines would draw the waist in so that it would appear smaller. 
This pretty cardigan is from Primark, it is still a little longer – ending at the hip line, but the pretty crochet collar is a nice touch. If you intend to buy knitwear then my advice is to buy one size smaller you will find your body shape won’t disappear.