Any mention of 'albino' and I am likely to think of one person, and one person only, my French teacher.
An albino with waist-length hair and the characteristic pink skin and the nystagmus which meant her eyes were never still and never quite looking at us.
I'd like to think we would all have coped with any amount of that without prejudice because we were a free-thinking crowd and the hair was quite breathtakingly beautiful but it was all marred by the fact that she was not in the least bit endearing, and sadly we were all typical fifteen year old girls and capable of the worst.
French lessons became a regular journey to hell and back for all concerned.
So when I opened Blackmoor by Edward Hogan and realised it was about
'Beth, an albino, half blind, and given to looking at the world out of the corner of her eye'
I'll admit to feeling slightly queasy as I frantically found myself back in Form 4C and trying to remember my French vocab.
Beth finds herself living with husband George and baby Vincent in a Derbyshire mining community which thankfully makes any classroom prejudice we may have unwittingly harboured look fairly tame. In Blackmoor the neighbours are convinced Beth is 'touched', a bad omen single-handedly responsible for every bizarre and out-of-the-ordinary occurrence that can happen in a village that sits astride a very temperamental and gaseous coal seam.
As readers we are privy to much more information and it becomes apparent that Beth is suffering from post-natal depression and struggling to keep body and soul together and I am giving away no more than the blurb when I tell you that Beth's mysterious death dominates. More family lies and secrets to be unearthed as ten years on, and now living alone with his father, Vincent chips away at the well-concealed past that his father has worked so hard to keep buried. George has effectively erased Beth from their lives and Vincent will need to dig deep.
Three books read in succession about family secrets, The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan, The Tin-Kin by Eleanor Thom and now Edward Hogan's Blackmoor and all making for a great triplet reading experience. Often the hidden scourge and shame of mental illness to be concealed, unacknowledged grief and loss to be buried in the hope it will just go away and the spectre of the past haunting the present, keeping all attempts at joy and happiness firmly in its shadow.
I might have made that all sound a bit depressing, and 'tis true there are few if any laughs to be had from Blackmoor, but as a three-way reading journey this has all been exceptional. Add in the fact that Blackmoor is an incredible first novel because Hilary Mantel says so, and I always agree with Hilary, and I think we will hopefully hear much more about Edward Hogan.
Shortlisted for the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize 2008, an award for writers under the age of thirty which was eventually won by Nam Le for The Boat placed Edward Hogan in great company on the shortlist, Ceridwen Dovey, Dinaw Mengestu and Ross Raisin to name a few.
If there were few laughs to be had here then that has all been perfectly balanced alongside two books to make me beam and smile, A Very Persistent Illusion by L.C.Tyler and Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans (my thoughts on that and prize draw copies very soon) and can you believe this, my very first read of a book that has had me metaphorically (because I'd hate to put my back out) bent double with laughter, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons ...where on earth have I been?