LION AT THE DOOR by David Attoe
Kirkus Star


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First-novelist Attoe's tale of domestic woe, set in an English mining town, avoids being a lurid account of father-daughter incest by being written with an exceptional grace and lyricism. For all its sociological resonance, this dark and brooding fiction derives its narrative power from a subtle design and an unerring measure of the heart. The first of three perfectly rendered monologues here introduces young Hazel Sapper, the bright daughter of a brutish miner, for whom she harbors patricidal thoughts. And no wonder. From an early age, she's been beaten and sexually abused by the lout, and prevented from enjoying the few pleasures in her mostly squalid life. Linden Sapper not only resents his daughter's "stuck-up" ways acquired at school, he also forbids her to play with her friend Rosko, a schoolmate who stays mostly to himself but who shares with Hazel a love of nature. Together, they explore the dingle where Rosko has built a secret hut, and where they innocently spend a night--an event with disastrous consequences. Rosko disappears and is feared dead, though Hazel soon learns better. For her, the world reasserts its ugliness, as she's preyed upon by vile men. In the second monologue, Hazel's daughter, a rather heartless young woman, reluctantly attends her mother's funeral--Hazel has died prematurely at age 40--and dwells on a history of mistreatment. Of course, the daughter has no sense of her mother's emotional scars, and how they led to a loveless marriage and two unwanted children. The final section finds Rosko approaching middle-age, "a regular punter" who enjoys his pint and plays the horses. A recent motorcycle accident leads him to recall his reunion with Hazel, a moment full of recrimination and disillusionment. Both had long cherished their memories of being together, a time when Hazel managed to find, however momentarily, "a safety of flowers." Amidst all the bleakness of a mining town, nature alone promised beauty and nourished hope. But a mined life begets its due, and no one can recapture the past. Attoe's Proustian evocation of flora and fauna brilliantly plays against an otherwise stark, industrial landscape. His voices speak a range of feelings, each to perfect pitch, and none with mannered inflection. A stunning and eloquent debut.

ISBN: 316-05800-9
Publisher: Little, Brown
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