It does not do to romanticise drizzle, rain on motorways, months of strip-lighting, office windows black at four o’clock, concrete skies... and the chilly, tug-like, foot-sucking mud that winter can exert upon the spirit. But the cold does offer great compensations, like the subtle colours, the days as bright as a magpie’s cackle, and those stretched tones that bruise the blue of a cold sky in its fading." As you’ll read in my author profile of Clare, this morale-boosting book, both cosy as a log fire, and bracing as a moorland squall, began life as a thematic book about the winter season, but evolved into something more personal in the writing. It takes the form of Clare’s journal of the winter of 2017/18, the Beast from the East and all, in which he is candid about the seasonal depression which sometimes seizes him, but also creative in trying to head it off; encouraging us above all to look outwards, become observers of nature, and to embrace winter with all its shadows and its lights. Beautifully written as you’d expect from the multi-award-winning Clare, it’s full of the arresting and poetically precise descriptions of the natural world at which he excels.
Keeping a journal was Clare’s attempt to banish his seasonal depression. Beginning in mid-October, it traces his progress through the dark months of winter until spring.
Sinking into a despair so deep that his long-suffering wife Rebecca tells him she ‘can’t breathe’, Clare finds hope in redemptive moments of conviviality, love and delight in the natural world.
Though Clare’s winter journey is often harsh it is filled with redemptive moments of love, conviviality and delight in the natural world. As a nature writer, he tends towards the ecstatic (“the days as bright as a magpie’s cackle”) but he is a fine observer, and the lushness of his prose offers a striking contrast with the stark lineaments of the winter landscape, both physical and spiritual.
...supremely well-written new book... Clare is a brilliantly inventive prose stylist, and some of his descriptive writing here is so good it makes you stop and smile and immediately read it again... Like any non-fiction writer worth his salt, he has looked objectively at his subject – in this case his own mental state – and, rather than jotting down every single thought that pops into his head, he has shown us only those the moments that illustrate most profoundly what he has experienced... The power is in the contrasts, and this is a very powerful book indeed.
There is something ancient and visceral about this book, in which birth and love and death form part of an unadorned rhythm of the passing days. The loyalty of close family and the enduring, sustaining power of love are at the heart of what matters: motherhood, fatherhood, and the love of parents for children and for each other. The account of a new father’s sense of astonishment and humility at the arrival of his first child is as transcendent as any description of childbirth I know; and the subsequent account of a baby’s first few days of life ‘a world of pure expression, beyond the limits of language’ is equally moving.
The stark, wintry landscape evoked in Clare’s luminous prose — those ‘days as bright as a magpie’s cackle’— is magnified by the influence of other nature writers, Emily Brontë, Wallace Stevens, Louis MacNeice and Patrick Kavanagh among them...This is a deeply personal book, a story of one man’s journey through the winter months, struggling with his own anxieties, and also one that addresses our own deepest fears and insecurities. If Clare does not emerge from the winter with his original pledge wholly intact, the final resolution that he embraces, as the snow and ice begin to melt, is testament to his resilience and a universal enticement to approach the winter months joyfully and fear-free.
...The Light in the Dark is a curiously evasive undertaking – not so much a book about winter depression as a journal fitfully haunted by it... Perversely, I was left wanting more about the dreadful nature of the encroaching darkness, even while understanding his reluctance to go there. At times, it is as if he is shying away from describing the full tidal sway of his depression lest it drag the reader down with him... This diaristic book sits uneasily between the outdoors and the confessional, with too much of the former and not enough of the latter. This is doubly strange given that Clare, on the evidence of his prose, seems to live in a permanent state of heightened awareness... He feels things intensely and, quite often, finds the words to express that intensity in vivid, luminous prose, but there is a holding back here, not least in the book’s short epilogue... One hopes for him that the light lingers still, but this is a journal that illuminates the deadening darkness of depression only in brief glimpses.