Book review: That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler

The past is a dark and distant country in Tom Vowler’s haunting new novel… and the shadow it casts is long, hard and cruel.

Thursday, 3rd July 2014, 10:00 am
That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler
That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler

It’s just a year since Vowler set tongues wagging with his impressive debut, What Lies Within, a thrilling tale brimming with suspense set against the brooding backdrop of Dartmoor.

He returns to similar psychological territory in That Dark Remembered Day, a subtle, slow-burn story which unravels one family’s terrible day of reckoning and guarantees readers a memorable mental grilling.

Sensitively handled and cleverly multi-layered, this is a moving and unsettling exploration of the ripple effects of an unspeakable tragedy, how people’s lives can be changed within a matter of seconds and the corrosive legacy of lies, repression and guilt.

Stephen Briggs is a senior technician in a university marine biology department. It’s a job he loves but work pressures have been building and tensions are running high. However, that doesn’t account for Stephen punching one of the lecturers in the face in a fit of uncontrolled anger.

Now Stephen is suspended from work and drinking too much, his wife Zoe is appalled and frightened and their young daughter Amy is puzzled that her dad seems to be constantly unshaven and hungover.

Stephen knows that his life is unravelling and a dreadful crisis building inside him because of an event in his past, an event that he has managed to keep from his colleagues and even his wife. Even now he is determined to ride it out, hunker down and try for once ‘not to pick a fight with life.’

But then he gets a phone call to say his estranged mother is ill and he knows he must go to her even though it means returning to the market town in middle England where he grew up and where his childhood fell apart in a single day.

The time has arrived when he must confront the place and the people he left 30 years ago. Will he be able to finally understand the crime that punctured their lives so brutally?

Written in four parts which weave between the past and the present, and the individual stories of Stephen and his parents, this finely nuanced plot refuses to yield its dark secret until the last pages.

Vowler is a supremely sensitive writer who excels in characterisation, mood and landscape. That Dark Remembered Day, a bleak encounter with broken lives, encapsulates the devastation wreaked not just on the people involved in a tragedy but those caught up in its wake.

And in true literary style, a sense of time and place, man’s relationship with the natural world and powerful emotions are also awarded principal roles.

A dark, disturbing and compelling read…

(Headline, paperback, £8.99)