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Zennor In Darkness

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  780 ratings  ·  78 reviews
In her prize-winning first novel, Zennor in Darkness, Helen Dunmore reimagines the plight of D.H. Lawrence and his German wife hiding out in Cornwall during the First World War. Spring, 1917, and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories. Into this turmoil ...more
Paperback, 315 pages
Published May 3rd 1994 by Penguin UK (first published February 24th 1994)
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Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Zennor in Darkness is about the effect WW1 has on a small rural community on the Cornish coast. At the heart of the novel is the relationship between two cousins, Clare and the shell-shocked John William. It deploys a lot of flashback to recreate their relationship as children.

I found it a rather uneven novel, brilliant and thoroughly engaging in parts but a little overly ambitious and even pretentious in others (it was Helen Dunmore's first novel).

DH Lawrence and his wife Frieda are character
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In December 1915, DH Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda, moved to Zennor, Cornwall. His novel, The Rainbow had recently been banned in the UK for obscenity. This novel isn’t just about Lawrence though. It’s a beautifully imagined portrait of community life in south Cornwall during World War I.

The main character is Clare Coyne. She lives in St Ives with her father who married a Cornish woman well below his status but they had made St Ives their home. She died when Clare was very young and so sh
Jul 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of those books that I was dying to read because it takes place in Cornwall (St Ives and Zennor). I have been to Cornwall and am back there for a second time (staying in St Ives!) It is a magical place- this book captures its allure beautifully. The descriptions are evocative of the place and probably the people living here in 1917.
The start was slow for me- for the first almost half of the book, I actually would rate it a 3 ! But for just over the second half of the bo
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, may-2018
Helen Dunmore's Zennor in Darkness proved the perfect tome to pick up over a relaxed and warm bank holiday weekend. I first read the novel some years ago, but did not remember much about it, save for D.H. Lawrence featuring as one of the protagonists, and the sweeping Cornish setting. First published in 1993, John le Carre calls this 'a beautiful and inspired novel', and the Sunday Telegraph deems it 'highly original and beautifully written'.

Zennor in Darkness opens in May 1917, when war has com
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
One of the earlier books by the much missed Helen Dunmore.
Roger Brunyate
View from the Sidelines

The title is less mysterious than it might seem. Zennor is a tiny town near St. Ives in Cornwall where D. H. Lawrence leased a secluded cottage in 1916 and 1917. The Darkness is of course the First World War, which claimed the young men of the county, brought German U-Boats to their shores, and set the suspicious villagers against Lawrence, his strange pacifist ways, and his German wife Frieda von Richthofen (a distant cousin of the celebrated Red Baron). Also straddling t
Oct 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Zennor in Darkness is Helen Dunmore's first novel for adults, however she is also very prolific with children's novels. All of Dunmore's books are shockingly descriptive, and even this adjective lacks justice -- obviously she has had the gift to write so well since day one because Zennor in Darkness is truly incredible from an intimacy standpoint and is beautifully written.

The novel is set in England during WWI along the coast of Cornwall. Those infamous U-boats are prevalent and us readers are
Aug 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
We randomly pulled off the road into the little village of Zennor. It's a tiny Cornish village set just in from the sea that happens to have a tea room, a museum and a wonderful Cornish bookshop. I was even more surprised when I realized that I already had this book about Zennor at home, waiting to be read.

Zennor in Darkness was immensely richer than the World War I story I thought would be within the covers. The book was a blend of what might be Cornish traits--poetry, practicality, strong pass
May 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is beautifully written, lyrical and descriptive. I think it owes a good deal to D.H.Lawrence's work and a few sentences seemed to be straight out of "Sons and Lovers". I enjoyed the historical detail and the character portrayals as well as the exploration of gossip, rumour and misapprehension. The descriptions of the Cornish Coast are very evocative.
I did find it a little ponderous and repetitive in places but look forward to reading more by this author.
Fenella Ford
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Having been fortunate enough to hear Helen Dunmore speak when she gave one of the Suffolk Book League's monthly talks some years ago, I was intrigued to read her first novel - hadn't read any others of hers. I had recently read a couple of other books around the First and Second World Wars (in 2014 Testament of Youth, and this year In Love and War by Liz Trenow - enjoyed that more than Zennor - and The Childbury Ladies Choir which I absolutely loved) and have visited Cornwall this year, which we ...more
Huw Rhys
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm not at all sure what to make of this book.

On the one hand, there is a heart string tugging love story at the centre of it, in which all the horrors, futility and despair of the first World War on both sides of the English Channel are invoked. This central thread is beautifully written, and the story is rounded in as much as such a story can be rounded - but the questions it asks in themselves are thought provoking and evocative. If this were the only story written about in this book, it woul
Paula Bardell-Hedley
The British poet, novelist and children's writer, Helen Dunmore died of cancer at the age of 64 on 5th June 2017. Sad to say, I have only now come to her work with this, her very first novel, published in 1993.

Winner of the McKitterick Prize, Zennor in Darkness could best be described as a rich, intricate, intensely lyrical historical novel. Set in the spring of 1917, at a time when the controversial author, D.H. Lawrence, and his German wife, Frieda (pejoratively referred to as "Hunwife" by war
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanted to love this book. Set in Cornwall (a place I recently visited) during the Great War and including real life author, DH Lawrence as a character and a young Irish Catholic protagonist it should have been a book I inhaled. But I didn't. I waited for the pace to hasten and the characters to reveal their souls to me but it didn't happen.
And yet, I loved reading about a place where I recently hiked and the descriptions of the coast and the sea were familiar.
I liked it enough to read more o
Nick Briggs
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This seems to be under the radar as a great novel, but it is. It captures perfectly a place in a particular time. The place is Zennor and the time is the First World War. The novel captures many things and Dunmore often writes as the poet she was albeit in the novel format. One thing she particular captures is the power of public mood and consciousness in times of national events like wars. This novel captures the dark side of this through the eyes of D H Lawrence, living in Zennor at the time t ...more
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I found this a compelling story although it is quite dark and depressing in parts. It really reminds you how awful WW1 really was for everyone involved and shows the effect that it had on the soldiers, their families and society in general.
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
I read another of her books and absolutely loved it, so I thought I would go back to her first and work my way through all of her books but I really didn't like this one. There was no subtlety at all, it felt very contrived. I still intend to keep reading her books though as Exposure was fabulous! ...more
Oct 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful writer. I've given this book 5 stars despite struggling to get into it and actually disliking many aspects of the first chapter because the writing throughout is so exquisite and Helen Dunmore just seems to be on a different plane to a lot of other writers. She really is a poet (well, literally I know) and somewhere around the middle of the novel I found myself wondering if she's even capable of writing a mediocre sentence. A few niggly things e.g. not my favourite ever beginning as ...more
Anne Tucker
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So enjoyed this book - I read it in 3 days and couldn't put it down. I am also intrigued by the fact that it meant so much to me in the post-referendum Brexit world that we are in (and how differently I might have thought about it if I'd read it 2 years ago).
It was beautifully crafted - the mix of current story and past information on each character - was very well handled, slowly revealing more about each person's motivation. Although it is about DH Lawrence (and is mostly true I think), he is
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helen Dunmore's first novel gives hints of what is to come. All her other ten novels on my bookshelf are better, but "Zennor in Darkness" is still worth reading. I thought at first it seemed very ordinary, but the story and the writing soon picks up. It is an interesting mix of fact and fiction. The central character is a young Clare Coyne who lives with her father in St Ives, a short way from Zennor where D H Lawrence has taken a cottage with his wife Frieda. The writer was actually there in 19 ...more
Ant Koplowitz
Feb 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore is a rich, multi-layered novel set during World War I. At the centre of the story is Clare Coyne, brought up in remote Cornwall by her 'part-time' father and her extended family. The story is about the impact of the war on this family - how they try to minimise their loss, how they cope with the war's deprivations, and how they deal with the semi hero worship of their special son going off to serve King and Country. The other element focuses on the presence of ...more
Aayusi Biswas
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Helen Dunmore is a witch and her pen is a wand.⠀

This book was a lanslide of emotions. While the title sounds all mystic and beautiful, it is very revealing once you finish the book. Zennor is a little Cornish village where D.H. Lawrence took up a secluded cottage with his German wife for a couple of years. The Darkness is the first world war. Clare, a Cornish girl is the bridge between the unpleasant folks of the village and Lawrence. Brave and beautiful Clare is responsible for keeping it all
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of literary fiction, D.H. Lawrence fans
Recommended to Ellen by: Ben
Wonderful backdrop of Cornwall, UK during WWI. I wanted to do the walks and sit in the places the characters do because I know the views are simply outstanding. This author always does a wonderful job of giving the setting in her books a life of its own, just as if it was another character.
Imagine St. Ives without the tourist mobs, just fishing boats, simple people in a village and rural area where everybody knows your business before you do. Or they think they do. And once set to rumour, it be
Tim Atkinson
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Putting into words my appreciation of the poetic storytelling spell cast by Helen Dunmore in a book like this defies all the efforts such magical prose inspires. The deft switching of perspective, the deep psychological insights, the vivid flash of well-chosen detail and the unrelenting, unflinching realism make for a masterpiece of fiction. The flawless dovetailing of historical characters and events with the literary setting is every bit the equal of Pat Barker’s excellent Regeneration trilogy ...more
Dec 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would agree with several previous reviewers who said they found the first half very slow. It picked up steadily then really got going. Had to stay up late to finish last chapter so there’s hope - keep going!!
The description of the Cornwall’s landscape & natural history were beautifully written however some of the Cornish anecdotes were a bit obviously dropped in.
Overall one of the better HD books (-I’ve read a few & enjoyed most)-especially if you’re surrounded by WW1 commemorations & live in
Apr 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did enjoy this book, one reason could have been that I know the setting well. Other reasons were that I think it was very well written, giving a great sense of place and time. The darkness in the title is the first world war, and it's effect on the people there. Every family has a son or husband either fighting or lost to the war, leaving few to work the land. Although this does books features D.H. Lawrence and his foreign wife Freida, it is more about a young girl, Clare, and her extended fam ...more
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting novel that includes dh Lawrence as a character. About an Irish cousin in Cornwall who grows up with her other cousins but she is a bit of an outsider. One of the cousins goes to war and returns with hidden shell shock. Interesting side story about dh Lawrence and his German wife. He is writing about the side of war that the media doesn't display. The family have experience of shell shock, suicide and desertion, none of which they openly acknowledge. ...more
Rosemary Orme
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-challenge
Wonderful evocation of life in Zennor during the Great War. It introduces D H Lawrence and his German wife, scorned by the law and reviewers for his writing, scorned by all for her nationality.
Heroine Clare moves between the gentile class of her father and the local class of her now dead mother and is a sympathetic young character.

The mermaid of Zennor gets a mention.
Just the book to read when on holiday in west Cornwall!
Marsha Dermott
Sep 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
This novel is set in Cornwall during wartime, in 1917. It is the coming of age story of Clare Coyne, and her friendship with D H Lawrence and his German wife Frieda. Dunmore explores what happens to the friends and family left at home during wartime.
This was Dunmore's first adult novel, having already written so many inspired children's novels. Her writing is effortlessly beautiful with so much fresh, subtle imagery; the turmoil of Clare's emotions reflected in the wild Cornish landscape.
Carole Frank
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written book, one of Helen Dunmore's early gems, about a small place in Cornwall during the First World War. D H Lawrence lived here for a while with his German wife, they make friends with fictional Clare and her cousin, John William, who is suffering from shell shock. I love Helen Dunmore's books and am working my way through all of them. ...more
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful touching story with as ever in Dunsmore’s books, a stunning evocation of person, time and place. I chose to read this whilst holidaying in the area and visited Zennor Church and saw the mermaid chair. It left quite an impression on me as a read as her books always do. Sad that there will be no more.
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I was born in December 1952, in Yorkshire, the second of four children. My father was the eldest of twelve, and this extended family has no doubt had a strong influence on my life, as have my own children. In a large family you hear a great many stories. You also come to understand very early that stories hold quite different meanings for different listeners, and can be recast from many viewpoints ...more

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