The marketing of novels has changed significantly over the past decade. Promotional videos, book blog tours, author Q&As, endorsements, contests and giveaways are just some of the advertising content that can be seen on social media platforms as we approach the publication date of a book. This seems especially true for new writers. In an increasingly crowded market, first-time or emerging writers must try to differentiate themselves from the pack.
A notable trend in recent years (at least anecdotally from what I get as a reviewer) has been the letter to the readers, in which an author talks about their motivations for writing the book, explains the main themes and concerns , and more often than not divulges aspects of their personal lives that reveal an autobiographical bent towards fiction.
The same is true of Australian author Sara Schmidt’s letter to the author for her second novel, Blue Hour, which begins: “Dear reader, there was a time when the only thing the night brought me was dreams that seemed to call me to forgotten corners. of my life, hold me there until I figured out what I was looking at, made me realize I had unresolved issues. The letter goes on to detail these dreams, which involve miscarriage, motherhood, writing, character creation, difficult pasts and mental health issues, ending with a paragraph about how the author wishes every reader gets at least one great feeling over the course of the book.
But isn’t that the whole point of fiction, that we feel something while reading? Isn’t that what all good novels should do? I confess that if I had read this letter before reading Blue Hour, its serious tone, its flashes of melodrama and its attempts to guide the reader could well have prevented me from reading the book.
Luckily, I tend to leave out PR material until I’ve written the review, as Blue Hour is a superb sequel to Schmidt’s debut, the Women’s Prize-longlisted See What I Have Done. As with this novel, the author takes a very dark subject – in this case, war, domestic violence, the loss of a child – and digs deeper into her character to try to make sense of the chaos.
While the focus is on a fractured family, the scope is epic: suburban Australia spanning three decades, from the 1940s to the 1970s, encompassing both World War II and Vietnam, violence against men on the battlefield and the resulting carnage. in their wives. The story is divided between Kitty, a nurse who accidentally becomes pregnant by Private George on the eve of his departure to fight in World War II, and Kitty’s daughter, Eleanor, from an unhappy marriage, who bears the many family burdens. shoulders, from childhood to adulthood and her own unhappy marriage to Leon, a handsome doctor with a sadistic streak.
Saying too much about the plot of Blue Hour would spoil the plot twists. Schmidt’s skill as a writer is his ability to create page-turning literary fiction; it’s easy to see why her first novel drew comparisons to author Donna Tartt. With its plots steeped in war and violence and the randomness of life, this new novel has more than a resonance with Kate Atkinson. Another touchstone is Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar, shortlisted by Booker: toxic relationships, complicated mothers, legions of wounds that are passed down from generation to generation. Or as Schmidt would have said in Blue Hour, “the way women can break women without realizing it”.
Throughout the novel, the prose is elegant and finely crafted. Schmidt writes clear and rhythmic sentences, full of cadence and inventive images, especially when he describes the body: “His torso a little story of the earth… this pulsation between his legs: a magnet… his mouth slightly open like a storefront dummy… red lattice of bruises spread over her inner thighs like Clathrus ruber. Leon’s coercive control of Eleanor is sickeningly real, the warning signs from the beginning – “You think too much” – to the inevitable progression, “Her way of looking: a butcher bird staring raw meat on the sidewalk.”
Blue Hour is structured in a way that will confuse and surprise the reader. When we first meet Eleanor, she has taken her baby girl Amy on a run through the Australian wilderness, a place of solace in an otherwise brutal world. What follows is a tense, action-packed novel full of bizarre, sometimes surreal endings, that is, a book that delivers much more than the promise of its author’s letter: “She often felt like a predator in her own body, in search of the last vestiges of her former life: relics, ancient times. Think of yourself as past.