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Veil of Darkness

8 March 2017

Veil of DarknessVeil of Darkness by Gillian White
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’d finished all my library books and was looking at the bookshelves for some bedtime reading and my eye lit on Veil of Darkness, just as the protagonist’s eye in the story had lit on a book on a shelf, a book called Magdalene. Veil of Darkness had sat on our shelves for 16 years, and I had never read it. We bought it at a sale for R20.00, shelved it and forgot it.

Kirsty Hoskins, fleeing from an abusive husband, gets a summer job as a chambermaid in a Devon hotel. On her way down there on the train she meets two other women who are hoping to forget males who have hassled them, Avril, whose ne’er-do-well brother is about to be released from prison, and Bernadette Kavanagh, trying to get over being jilted by a posh boyfriend, whose parents thought she wasn’t good enough for him. They all end up sharing a room in the staff quarters of the hotel.

The thing that frist got me about this book so far was that it could so nearly have been an alternative story of my life. When I arrived in England in 1966 as a penniless student without a work permit in 1966, someone said that foreigners could easily get jobs in the catering industry, and I had one lined up as a kitchen boy in a Devon hotel at £7 a week all found, and the man was pressing a rail voucher on me, and just in time I got offered one driving buses for London Transport. It was so close.

So as I read I kept thinking, so this is what it would have been like.

And then Kirsty discovers The Book…

I’d also just posted something about the 2017 Reading Challenge Meme | Notes from underground, and I was thinking of including this book as “a book in a genre you usually avoid”.

From the beginning it seems to be chicklit, or women’s fiction, a genre in the GoodReads “Compare Books” function that always comes up blank for me. Three women trying to escape from obnoxious males — that surely fits, doesn’t it?

But then Kirsty discovers The Book…

The Book seems to be a classic Gothic horror novel, featuring a nun who plots revenge. And that is about as much as we are ever told about it. After Kirsty reads it she and her roommates start having thoughts of revenge and standing up to their persecutors. So perhaps it’s not chicklit, but a Gothic horror novel, and that’s not a genre I usually avoid.

Having finished it, I shift its genre again. It is “a book about books or reading”. The book featured in the story, Magdalene is a Gothic horror novel, certainly, but Veil of Darkness isn’t. Or is it a Ruth Rendell-type whydunit psychological crime novel?

After reading The Book Kirsty gets the idea of doing a rewrite job on it, and publishing it under her own name. Avril, the typist at the hotel’s reception office, agrees to type it up, and when Kirsty realises, almost too late, that she can’t publish it under her own name because then her husband might find her, Bernadette agrees to take the public and publicity role.

And that is where it becomes unconvincing, and drops from three stars to two. The idea that Kirsty, who has only ever read Mills & Boon, could do a rewrite job on an old out of print book and turn it into a literary masterpiece is way too far-fetched.

What happens next would be too much of a spoiler, but I found it had more plot holes than The da Vinci Code. It falls a long way short of Ruth Rendell‘s psychological crime novels, where every event seems to lead inexorably and inevitably to the next, sliding down into the commission of a crime. This seems more like a series of random events with only the vaguest hint of causation.

It had enough interest to keep me reading to the end just to see what happened (and not just, like The da Vinci Code and Interview with the Vampire, so that I could say I had actually read them to people who might say “But you can’t criticise a book you haven’t read”). This one wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t all that good either.

And I’m still not sure what genre it belongs in.

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