Set in the beautiful countryside on the border of Wales and England, it is the story of eccentric poet Gillian Traherne and her strained and awkward relationship with her practical and no-nonsense mother Phoebe.
As the opening line of the book states, “Phoebe was fact and Gillian fiction: together, mother and daughter uneasily inhabited the damp, grey stone house which stood just over the border from Herefordshire to Wales.”
Thrown into the mix are two newcomers to the area, gay corporate Londoner Edward who is trying his hand at sheep farming, and recently widowed Nesta who is coming to terms with her new life. The poetry in the novel (written by Gillian) is beautiful and Gee’s talent is immense.
In 1997 the book won the UK Romantic Novelist’s Association major award, the Parker Romantic Novel of the Year. But this is not a typical romance book and I would recommend it to both men and women as a study of life in a small village. If you love that fly on the wall feeling you will love this book.
The Hours of the Night is an award-winning romance novel with a difference set in the remote countryside on the border of England and Wales.
At the heart of the story is the relationship between the lonely and eccentric poet Gillian Traherne and her straight-talking mother Phoebe; solid as a rock and a genius in the garden.
The opening line of The Hours of the Night is a perfect introduction – “Phoebe was fact and Gillian fiction: together, mother and daughter uneasily inhabited the damp, grey stone house which stood just over the border from Herefordshire to Wales.”
The setting of the story has everything a romance should have – beautiful gardens, picture-perfect countryside, a slow turn of the seasons, endless valleys, isolated villages and secluded cottages with roaring open fires to keep out the cold.
But it is the characters in The Hours of the Night that make this novel such a wonderful read. They are all very different; damaged, eccentric, talented, interesting and very likeable, and the romances and relationships that build between them are at times beautiful and heart-wrenching.
Not surprising then that the novel won the UK Romantic Novelist’s Association major award, the Parker Romantic Novel of the Year in 1997.
The Hours of the Night
Gillian is a thirty-something poet who has never had a “real” job and spends most of her day locked up in her room writing poetry and living in a world that is far from the practical one of her mother’s organic vegetable garden. She comes from a long line of poets, the last of which was her father who drowned when she was very young and who she battles to remember as her mother has chosen to forget.
Gillian is naïve about love and has never lived anywhere but in the home she shares with Phoebe. When she does venture out it is on her bicycle in ill-fitting and unfashionable clothes to roam the countryside, but not with the aim of meeting anyone or with the purpose of a visit. She is not familiar with social norms or the realities of the adult world.
It is through Gillian’s eyes that Gee allows us to see what we often don’t have the time to take in and appreciate. It is a real treat.
It is while riding that Gillian comes across two newcomers to the area who change her life forever. One is Edward, a gay ex-Londoner who has returned to country life to take up sheep farming, and the other, Nesta, who is recently widowed and has come to work with disabled children at a special home in a nearby village.
The Characters in The Hours of the Night
Each character in The Hours of the Night has their own personal story to tell and the novel moves from one to the other seamlessly and without fuss.
Edward’s passion for country living is not shared by his partner Rowland, a famous singer who travels widely and is frequently on national radio. While Edwards rebuilds the old farmhouse they have bought together, Rowland visits when he can “get away”. The fear of losing the love of his life is so real that we find ourselves holding our breath with each visit.
Nesta has already lost the love of her life, and it is through her story, that of finding a sense of purpose in the children she works with, and the possibility of a new life, that the reader draws hope and comfort.
Phoebe story is of a life drawing to an end and looking back at what it all has meant.
Gillian is the reluctant heroine who holds everyone’s story together. She is one of the most interesting and unusual characters I have ever come across and she has stayed with me long after the last page has been turned.
Sue Gee is the author of eight novels including The Mysteries of Glass (2004) and Reading in Bed (2007).
The Hours of the Night by Sue Gee (Arrow Books, Random House UK, 1997,
ISBN: 0099274612, 342 pages.)
My rating: ★★★