Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Dark Angel By Sally Beauman

'My dearest Victoria, Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I shall tell you a story...about Winterscombe, your family, your parents and me. It is also a murder - is it a murder? - so pay attention as you read...'
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On Halley's Comet night, 1910, a violent death throws a giant shadow over three generations of the Cavendish dynasty. At the centre of events is the beautiful and dangerous Constance, who casts a spell - which may be a curse - on all the sons of the family. Following the destruction of two World Wars - and the passion, deceits and hatreds of the intervening peace - it is the coruscating power of Constance's personality, and the sinister secret at the heart of her life, which will determine if Victoria, last of the Cavendishes, is to inherit happiness or misery.
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I've had Dark Angel on my shelves for over six years and after finally getting around to reading it I can't believe I left such a compulsive and fascinating story unread for so long.
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Victoria has not seen her godmother Constance for many years due to a rift but when she finally decides to seek her out, the outgoing and vivacious Constance appears to have gone into hiding but not before leaving her journals behind so Victoria can once and for all find out the truth about her family's past. The journals take her back to 1910 on the night of the Halley's Comet where suspicions and jealousies are rife. It continues on to chronicle the life of Constance and allows you to take a peek into the dark recesses of her mind.
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This is a exquisite family saga. Constance is one of the most complex and fascinating characters I have ever come across. In a way she reminds of Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With The Wind in the sense that she is not at all an entirely likable character but is completely addicting to read about. Like Scarlett, she is manipulative and wants to be admired but unlike her she is not at all spoilt. Constance knows what she wants and has the charms and deviousness to get it. She weaves her story in a way that leaves you unsure about what is the truth and what is lies but you also get the sense that she has lost sight of what is the truth herself.
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Constance grows from an sullen ten-year-old to a seductive woman at Winterscombe during Edwardian England under the care of the Cavendish family including Gwen and Denton Cavendish and their four sons; Boy, Acland, Freddie and Steenie. Whilst there, Constance manages to turn all loving impulses between the family into doubt, hatred and destruction. I really loved reading about Constance's influence on the whole family and how she purposely changes the family dynamic. She manages to manipulate and manoeuvre the brothers along in her own disturbing play. However you can't help pitying her in the end when you realise she is just a product of her broken childhood.
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The brothers themselves are all different. Acland is serious and brooding. Boy is quiet and disturbed. Freddie is innocent and unsure. Steenie is lively and forgiving. And yet they all fall under Constance plans at least once. Over the story they develop and change, especially because of the effect the wars have on them and gradually they manage to free themselves from Constance's grasp. Another character I thought was fascinating was Constance's husband. I'm not going to tell you who he is because I don't want to spoil it, but he marries and loves Constance even though he knows exactly what sort of person she is. Once again it reminds me of Gone With The Wind and the relationship between Rhett Butler and Scarlett. He knows how to play Constance at her own game.
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One of the main plot lines is the murder that occurs on Halley's Comet night and the unveiling of the killer. This made the story suspenseful and it also makes you suspicious of all the characters as Constance writes in her journals about all the suspects. I never guessed who the killer was until it was finally revealed because you could never be certain if you were being told the truth. Another plot line was the reason Victoria's parents forbade Constance to ever see them again after Victoria's christening. Throughout the story you were kept wondering why this rift had come about but I felt the revealing was a little anticlimactic and not as shocking as it was supposed to be. However, it did fit in well with what we have come to expect of Constance. I also like the fact that we don't initially know the identity of Victoria's parents, just that it must be one of the Cavendish brothers, and this allows us to have a clear perception of all the characters without Victoria's judgements.
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This story is a epic tale of an era that is fast approaching the modern world. The writing is beautiful and compulsive. All the characters are complex and alluring but Constance is the most chilling and dazzling of them all. Not only is a dark family drama, it is also a thrilling crime story and a love story. I highly recommend it for everyone and for anyone that has had it on their shelves unread for ages I urge you to pick it up now!
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Random Passage: Constance still slept; her cheeks were flushed, her hair disorientated, spread out upon the pillows. She was a child still, Acland said to himself. He knew at once it was untrue. Constance had never been like a child, even in the days when he first met her. Even then her gaze - defiant, watchful, as if expecting hurt - had been that of someone much older.

3 comments:

Danielle said...

Ooh this sounds great, another one for my list!

The Slowest Bookworm said...

That sounds intriguing. Shame it took you so long to read it :D

The Library Owl said...

@Danielle - it is! You should definitely check it out :)

@The Slowest Bookworm - I know! I wish I'd read it sooner but at least it reminds me not to leave books lying unread on my shelves for ages :)