This is a difficult book for me to review because I’m not entirely sure what I thought or how I felt about it. I found it difficult to get through, but there were also times that I couldn’t put it down.
A Small Dark Quiet tells the story of Arthur, a Jewish boy adopted from Germany by Sylvie and Gerald, a young married couple in England.
Sylvie gives birth to twin boys while her husband Gerald is away in the war. She names her boys Harry and Arthur, but unfortunately, only Harry survives. Sylvie is expected to put her grief about her lost baby behind her, and put on a smile for her husband when he returns. It is suggested to them that they adopt a boy, and they adopt one the same age as their biological son. They then choose to call him Arthur, after their dead son.
Constantly being referred to as ‘someone else’s little someone’ or ‘the other Arthur’, he is forced to grow up knowing that he does not quite fit and he spends the rest of his life trying to belong somewhere and to someone.
Sylvie’s mental and physical health deteriorates, and she spends her time in a world where her biological Arthur is buried in the park, growing until he is strong enough to come back to her.
When Arthur is old enough, he moves out of the family home and rents a room in a run down building owned by the constantly sick and easy going Keith. He is joined by Lydia, a girl he met while in the park, and who he is besotted with on sight. The last to join them in the next room is ‘Jack’, a Polish caretaker with broken english who seems to have a story to tell.
I found the style of this book quite difficult to follow – the timeline jumps back and forth and there’s very little in the way of transitional text i.e. there is very little explaining where the character is at any moment or who he may be talking to, I found I often had to read back a few paragraphs to piece together what was actually happening and who was speaking to whom.
Arthur’s constant striving for a place to belong is upsetting to read, he is determined to make himself appealing to everyone, be that trying to be the perfect partner to Lydia, despite her increasingly strange demands and behaviours, or trying to be the son that Sylvie desperately needs him to be. He does this while trying fiercely to hold his own independence – not wanting to work for his father, not wanting anyone to dress him etc.
There were threads in this book that I thought were going to lead somewhere that didn’t, which I found disappointing – for example, I really thought that Jack was going to be a bigger character, and reveal something about Arthur, but he ended up just being another character.
I found most of the characters hard to like, or feel for, truly the only character I really felt for was Sylvie, who’s life seemed tragic, and who really wasn’t treated very fairly by her family. Gerald was a bully at times, Harry just seemed to be floating through life, and Lydia was thoroughly unlikeable.
Would I recommend this book? Honestly, probably not, it’s not really my kind of book unfortunately, I just found it a bit too disjointed and it jumped around a little bit too much for my liking.
*I was sent this book on request from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.