Book Review: The Light in the Dark

“It is like being stalked by a ghoul. Turn your gaze outwards, I keep telling myself. You do not matter; other people matter, the land matters, the sky and the world. If only you could get out of the way of your own view!”

The Light in the Dark, by Horatio Clare, is a series of journal entries written over the course of a harsh, Pennine winter. In recent years the author has come to fear the season as it brings with it debilitating depression. Determined to face up to the issue, he agrees to write down his thoughts and experiences. The prologue is written at the end of a summer as he embarks on this writing journey.

“I will embrace this winter like a summer. I will try to see this little shard of the North as I would an unknown country. I will pay attention.”

Entries cover the period from mid October to mid March. The journal format offers an immediacy that other books – written with hindsight about an author’s depression – cannot capture. Clare is self-aware but this makes his suffering worse. He observes the effect his illness has on his beloved family thereby increasing his feelings of guilt and inadequacy. He understands that there is joy to be found – to be embraced and shared – in the present moment, but as the season deepens and darkens so does his introspection.

The prose is evocative and often poetic, particularly in his descriptions of nature. When possible Clare goes outside, on walks or to social events. He writes down his observations.

“Now the power cuts. I dash out to see if it is just us – but it is the world transformed, released into darkness, moonlight, stars and frost. It is the first time I have ever seen our valley as it is in itself at night.”

Clare was raised with his brother on a farm in Wales, his father largely absent. He lived in Italy for a time before moving to a village in Yorkshire – that his wife’s elder child may live closer to his father. The couple also have a young son and the narrative offers snippets of their family life.

Clare’s mother, now in her seventies, still runs the Welsh hill farm. Early in the book deeply distressing journal entries describe the sickening activities of badger baiters. I pondered how such monsters can exist.

The journal is not a complete account of the season but rather an ongoing reflection of the many facets of seasonal depression.

“I have not written down all the rows, the despairs, the heaviness of spirit; no reader could have enjoyed them.”

What is included are moments of light and reflection – found in nature or time spent with family – and the increasing difficulty Clare has rising to be warmed by them as winter slowly progresses. He knows that time will pass and spring will bring relief but surviving the present darkness is a growing challenge. The winter is a harsh one – weather wise and emotionally.

Despite the subject matter this is a hopeful read. Issues are confronted and the impairment created by Clare’s illness vividly conveyed. What shines through is the author’s humanity – his appreciation of the natural world and his family. The beauty of the writing carries the reader on a journey offering insights that may increase understanding of the difficulties and fears felt by those suffering mental illness.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Elliott & Thompson.