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The Hours Before Dawn

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  837 ratings  ·  163 reviews
This novel, one of the Virago Crime Classics, combines humour with a look at the danger and suspense in the tyranny of motherhood. It also explores the redeeming power of love.
Paperback, 216 pages
Published December 1st 1996 by Virago Press (UK) (first published 1959)
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Liz Barnsley
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this brilliant and vintage novel in one big gulp of a sitting this afternoon - positively beautiful writing, immensely creepy yet wittily hilarious in places, Celia Fremlin gives a masterclass in the genre of Domestic Noir years before Domestic Noir was a thing.

Winner of the 1960 Edgar award for best mystery novel (and you can see why) The Hours Before Dawn follows one tired young mother as she tries to differentiate between lack of sleep and actual danger - all the while the author descr
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I must admit that I had not heard of Celia Fremlin before this year. “The Hours Before Dawn,” was her debut – published in 1958 and winner of the Edgar award in 1960. Indeed, this was a worthy winner, I am sure. A psychological thriller, when such books were in their infancy, this is a wonderful read, with a storyline that all parents will sympathise with.

Louise Henderson lives with her husband Mark, daughters Margery and Harriet, and baby Michael. With another baby, the couple decide to take in
Crime by the Book
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5/5 stars for this classic crime story! Read my full review here:

This is truly a remarkable read - written in the 1950's, this psychological suspense story can hold its own against our current crop of psychological and domestic thrillers. Modern readers of the genre will be fascinated by just how well timeless Fremlin's 1950's story seems.
4.5/5. After having read one of Celia Fremlin’s short stories in this collection earlier this year, I knew that I wanted to read more of her work. The Hours Before Dawn is often described as one of the original, but sadly largely forgotten works of domestic suspense, a genre that has become increasingly popular through the works of authors such as Gillian Flynn or Shari Lapena. And even though this book was written and is set in the 1950s, I was shocked by how incredibly timeless it felt.

Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Hours Before Dawn was first published in 1958 and has been recently reissued along with other books by Celia Fremlin.

Celia Fremlin died aged 94 in 2009 and was labelled the grandmother of psycho-domestic noir. An appropriate tag if The Hours Before Dawn is anything to go by. It's a well written and beautifully observed story about Louise Henderson, a mother struggling to cope with her three children including a new born baby. This being the late 1950s gender roles are strictly delineated and
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018
"If you went on neglecting your own tastes like this, did you, in the end, cease to have any tastes? Cease, in fact, to be a person at all, and become merely a labour-saving gadget around the house?"

Domestic noir, when done well, is one of my favourite genres, one that has the potential to cut especially deep when the dangers lurking are those surrounding us in our daily lives. Whilst this genre seems to have become increasingly popular over the last decade, it is by no means a new concept – as
Claire Fuller
This is said to be the first, or at least one of the first domestic psychological thrillers. I really enjoyed the domestic setting- all that 1950s English period detail about what to give the children for lunch when they come home from school (or husband when he comes home from work!), how all the beds need to be made every morning, the nappies, and the endless feeding. I liked the writing, and the build up of dread that something bad was going to happen. But it was the discovery of what the bad ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Sleep deprivation is disorienting. It can cause memory problems and mood changes. The ability to concentrate is compromised. Babies are certainly wonderful, but I've never met a mother of a baby who didn't suffer from sleep deprivation and Louise Henderson is the best I've seen in print. All she wants in this world is one good night's sleep.
Louise stood still, and with her hand resting lightly on the handle of the pram she gazed up at the night sky, which held no faintest glimmer of dawn. Wasn’t
Nov 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: mystery lovers, fans of Shirley Jackson

One of the pleasures of reading all those old books for My Big Fat Reading Project is discovering gems like this. The Hours Before Dawn won the Edgar Award in 1960.

Louise Henderson is the young mother of two children in 1950s London. Her infant does not sleep much, especially between the hours of 2 AM and dawn. He cries incessantly so that by the time he is just a few months old, Louise is so sleep deprived she moves through her daily housewifery duties in a daze.

Mr Henderson is a typical 50s hu
Rachel Hall
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First published in 1958, The Hours Before Dawn is considered a “lost classic” and the first example of psychological suspense in a domestic setting. Admirably succinct, laced with an incisive wit and vivid characters, the inspiration for this novel was the author’s own experience with the sleepless nights, subsequent exhaustion and isolating misery that are often the lot of new mothers everywhere. As relevant and powerful as when it was originally published, Fremlin’s insightful portrayal of rel ...more
Brian Reynolds
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very enjoyable and quick read. I loved the novel’s use of the tiredness of a new mother as a devise to question her perceptions. As Wikipedia states about Fremlin, she “helped modernize the sensation novel tradition by introducing criminal . . . elements into domestic settings.” And Fremlin does that very effectively. The author’s insights into a late 1950s mother of a new baby were believable and drew me into the story.
I found the more ‘relaxed’ parental attitudes of the time to be a
Jul 18, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Setting: London; 1950s. Louisa Henderson, living in London suburbia in the 1950's with her husband Mark and three children, is trying to maintain the social norms of the time by being a good wife, mother and neighbour. But her baby, Michael, refuses to sleep through the night and his constant waking and screaming is driving the neighbours to distraction and complaint and driving Louisa to her wit's end through lack of sleep - typical of the time, husband Mark is no use whatsoever and doesn't int ...more
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. Written in 1958 this book could be one of the very first domestic noir publications. It tells the tale of harassed mother of 3 Louise Henderson whose main aim in life is to get a decent night’s sleep, which is very unlikely due to her young baby’s penchant for crying all night long. After they take in a lodger, Miss Brandon, Louise’s grip on reality becomes even more tenuous and it’s soon hard to see what is fact and what is fiction.

I just loved this book. Although very of its time I
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, august-2017
Celia Fremlin's 1958 debut novel, The Hours Before Dawn, which has been recently reissued by Faber & Faber, sounded utterly splendid. The novel, which won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1960, marked the beginning of Fremlin's prolific career, in which she went on to publish sixteen novels in all. Fremlin's metier, says Laura Wilson's intelligent and informative introduction, 'was psychological suspense in a domestic setting; no grand guignol or melodrama, but something a thousand times creepe ...more
Shelley Day Sclater
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Solid domestic noir! A story of a young overburdened mother, with a domestically useless husband, trying her best to multitask 1950s style, and presiding over nothing short of pandemonium in her home and in her head. Is she losing the plot? Or are circumstances conspiring to make it look like that? Enter the mysterious spinster lodger who gets more and more sinister by the page. I can't tell you any more than that without introducing spoilers, but suffice to say it's a great read, though the boo ...more
Mar 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
I have been looking for this title for 40 years! I read this book repeatedly as a child of 8, 9, 10, maybe up to 11 years old. It truly frightened me. Over the years I lost track of the book (it belonged to my mother) but the story has remained vivid. An exhausted mother who is beginning to lose her grip on reality and cannot be as grateful for her beautiful baby as she wants to be because of her exhaustion. A husband who is less than patient. And a helpful neighbor who may (or may not) be as ki ...more
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A superb and beautifully written tale of suspense that won Fremlin an Edgar Award - not bad for a first novel. The plot is not that complex, but the mystery excels at presenting an exceedingly believable protagonist in housewife Louise Henderson, and the mid- century setting (the novel is from 1958) lends the proceedings a vintage, yet realistic appeal.
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I have been reading her books since I was a teenager. Excellent writer.
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant book, never heard of this author before but will be looking out for more of hers
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
The fourth book I've read by Celia Fremlin, though it's her first. I can see in this debut the seeds of themes she explores in the later books. ...more
Mar 05, 2019 rated it liked it
So interesting to see the contrast between modern thrillers and this one. It invoked images of The Yellow Wallpaper and even a bit of Rosemary's Baby ;) And being reminded of things I also saw as movies, I was intrigued by the scene where the characters went to a movie. The mother is so sleep deprived, but her husband said she'd probably enjoy it, and she's trying so hard to stay awake and see what he thought she'd see. It reminded me that the world is a different place in the movie industry. In ...more
Rob Twinem
Louise a put upon housewife with 3 siblings lives in middle class splendour with a husband unable or unwilling to help by taking joint responsibility for the day to day management of a busy household. This is a novel of its time set in late 1950's England when it was supposedly expected for the man of the house to be the bread winner and his wife to attend not only to a busy daily routine but also a demanding sibling schedule and a lazy needy husband.

Into this chaos steps Miss Brandon her role a
1958, Edgar-winning first novel, the suspenseful - and fearful! - home life of a new mother; Poor Louise is definitely a bit of a fluffy space-shot of a woman, but she's kind and loving and truly tries her hardest to make everything work well for her family. Whether or not she is mad, becomes mad, or only sees madness around her is slowly and carefully presented. Seems a mite overwrought now, but still effective - three-and-one-half stars

Mrs. Louise Henderson has a new baby, two active daughters
Marina Sofia
Feb 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
One of the best descriptions of the sheer drudgery and exhaustion of motherhood and sleepless nights, interlaced with humour, wit and a very mature style which seems to have disappeared from contemporary domestic noir.
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliantly anxiety-inducing late-50's domestic thriller. Ugh sleep deprivation... It was great, so tense and well paced, with such a sense of the expectations and joylessness of life for less well-off young mothers back then, but also, I guess, now. The thrillery bit did wind up being a bit too thrillery for me right at the end, but y'know, it had to go there, and overall I really loved this one. ...more
Bruce Gargoyle
I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley.

Ten Second Synopsis:
Louise is exhausted from caring for her third child when the family take on a lodger. At first, nothing seems amiss, but as time passes and Louise struggles to retain her grip on reality through sleeplessness, the lodger's behaviour begins to appear more sinister.

The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin is a psychological thriller based upon those oft hideous first months of sleeplessness, exhaustion and physical
Boris Cesnik
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Nothing prepared me for the story I've just read. No other crime/mystery/suspense/thriller books bears any similarity to this one. I had never come across such a story before.

Yes you may find hints of Shirley Jackson, Ruth Rendell possibly...but are you sure?

This books is on another level.

I had no expectation, I didn't know or want to know where the story was going. I had wishes. I had hopes. I had fears.

The evil everyday, the inhuman routine, the unintelligible humanity are all protagonists.
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed this novel of “domestic suspense” published in 1958 (and the deserved winner of the 1960 Edgar Award). Decidedly creepy, Fremlin manages to create incredibly tense moments within what might be considered the mundane struggle of a sleep-deprived housewive’s endless stream of everyday chores. But what I loved most is that it’s impressive both how much about motherhood feels familiar, and yet how much expectations about the role of women has changed. Definitely a lot to dig into ...more
Protagonist has three children, including a new baby who won't sleep at night, and a traditional British husband who can't figure out why his shirts aren't being ironed properly. To help with expenses they take in a boarder and that's when things really start to go pear-shaped! Highly recommended for any woman who's ever had children; men may not appreciate it as much. ...more
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rosemary by: Dean James
This is the mystery for young mothers who are so tired that they've begun to lose their grip on reality. The bookseller at Murder by the Book recommended it to me when my children were little--and what a perfect selection it was for one who wandered the house at night, rocking and soothing a crying baby, finally dozing, then waking up not know what room she was in. ...more
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Celia was born in Kingsbury, now part of London, England. She was the daughter of Heaver Fremlin and Margaret Addiscott. Her older brother, John H. Fremlin, later became a nuclear physicist. Celia studied at Somerville College, Oxford University. From 1942 to 2000 she lived in Hampstead, London. In 1942 she married Elia Goller, with whom she had three children; he died in 1968. In 1985, Celia marr ...more

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