"A bold attempt to portray the greyness of growing up without roots or identity, cast adrift in an uncomprehending and uncertain world." Caroline Moorehead, Times Literary Supplement.
March, 1945. The ravaged face of London will soon be painted with victory, but for Sylvie, the private battle for peace is just beginning. When one of her twins is stillborn, she is faced with a consuming grief for the child she never had a chance to hold. A Small Dark Quiet follows a mother as she struggles to find the courage to rebuild her life and care for an orphan whom she and her husband, Gerald, adopt two years later.
Born in a concentration camp, the orphan's early years appear punctuated with frail speculations, opening up a haunting space that draws Sylvie to bring him into parallel with the child she lost. When she gives the orphan the stillborn child's name, this unwittingly entangles him in a grief he will never be able to console. His own name has been erased, his origins blurred. Arthur's preverbal trauma begins to merge with the loss he carries for Sylvie, released in nightmares and fragments of emerging memories to make his life that of a boy he never knew. He learns all about 'that other little Arthur', yearning both to become him and to free himself from his ghost. He can neither fit the shape of the life that has been lost nor grow into the one his adopted father has carved out for him.
As the novel unfolds over the next twenty years, Arthur becomes curious about his Jewish heritage, but fears what this might entail - drawn towards it, it seems he might find a sense of communion and acceptance, but the chorus of persecutory voices he has internalised becomes too overwhelming to bear. He is threatened as a child with being sent back where he belongs but no one can tell him where this is. He wanders as an adult looking for purpose but is unable to find his place. Feeling an imposter both at home and in the city, Arthur's yearning for that sense of belonging echoes in our own time.
Meeting Lydia seems to offer Arthur the opportunity to recast himself, yet all too soon he is trapped in a repetition of what he was trying to escape. A past he can neither recall nor forget lives on within him even as he strives to forge a life for himself. Survival, though, insists Arthur keeps searching and as he opens himself to the world around him, there are flashes of just how resilient the human heart can be.
Through Sylvie's unprocessed grief and Arthur's
acute sense of displacement, A Small Dark Quiet explores how
the compulsion to fill the empty space death leaves behind ultimately makes the
devastating void more acute. Yet however frail, the instinct for empathy and hope
persists in this powerful story of loss, migration and the search for