06/12/2003

The Moon at Midnight (by Charlotte Bingham)

I seem to have collected quite a few of Charlotte Bingham's novels, mostly second-hand.

The Moon at Midnight' is set in the 1960s, and starts by introducing the various families involved in the book, at the time of the Cuban crisis. The families all live in a British fishing port called Bexham. I was two at the time of the crisis, so don't have any memory of this, but the tension in everyone's minds becomes vividly clear at the beginning of the book, as we see the different ways that people are dealing with the possibility of another world war.

Charlotte Bingham has quite a gift with characters - she creates mostly realistic individuals, and clearly knows them well. She writes about them as if she's personally acquainted with them; at one point I wondered if some of them were even based on real people.

However, the problem with having such a good background in an author's mind is that it can be overwhelming for the reader, suddenly introduced to these people whom we've never heard of before, and somehow expected to remember who they are, how they behave, and what their relationship is with everyone else.

There is a huge cast of characters, most of whom are introduced right at the beginning. This left me completely bewildered, although thankfully there's a family tree at the start of the book, which I found myself referring to frequently.

Alongside the family saga style of writing, there's an ongoing crisis in the village of Bexham, which is under threat of commercial development. The end of the book sees a resolution to this, and is even followed by an epilogue which neatly ties up neatly all the loose ends and tells us what happens afterwards.

At first the Bexham crisis seemed to me like a red herring, yet I finally realised that the book was making an important point: it's in times of crisis that families and neighbourhoods pull together, united by a common cause. The Cuban crisis did that, the world wars - which the elders refer to frequently - did that even more, and even a minor village crisis can have a similar effect.

It's well-written, and the characters are good, even though there are too many of them and they're apparently blinkered at times. It was a pleasant enough read for someone like me who enjoys character-based books, and the ending was comfortable and tidy.

I can't say it was disappointing in any way - but it wasn't gripping, either. I had no problem putting it down and forgetting about it for a day or two. I only cared about the characters in a mild way, and have no feeling of regret having finished the book.

So, I don't know if I'll read it again. If the Cuban crisis interests you, this might be worth reading for some good background, or 1960s social history, but it wasn't really my kind of book. Still, a good enough light read.

(My much longer review of 'The Moon at Midnight' can be found on the Ciao site)

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