The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin


This is a Virago that I’ve had for a few years and finally grabbed off the shelf one night when I was in the mood for a mystery. It is set in the late ’50’s, in a middle-class London neighborhood and focuses on Louise Henderson, the mother of two school-age girls and a baby, Michael. Little Michael is quite a handful. He never sleeps through the night and, in fact, wakes at nearly two every morning and screams his head off for hours. Louise is sleep deprived and full of anxiety because Michael’s nightly trials have maddened her next door neighbor. On top of all this, the Hendersons take in a lodger, a quiet, unmarried lady named Vera Brandon. With a stranger in the house, Louise feels even more pressure to keep Michael quiet so, every night when Michael wakes, she secludes herself in the pantry while he cries. When strange things start to happen around the house Louise at first believes that her exhausted mind is playing tricks on her. However, her mother instincts tell her that all is not right and Miss Brandon’s odd behavior only adds to the confusion. Is Louise paranoid or is Miss Brandon a danger to her family?

Celia Fremlin created a very suspenseful and gripping novel with The Hours Before Dawn. Her portrayal of the struggles of trying to be a good mother while tired, frustrated and short on time is so familiar to all of us who are mothers or who have observed mothers. You feel sympathy for Louise yet also wonder if she is perhaps headed toward a nervous breakdown.  Her husband doesn’t help much with child rearing, housekeeping or cooking, but Louise takes it all in stride and doesn’t complain – it makes the reader feel irritation with her husband and distressed when he doesn’t believe her accounts of the odd occurrences that keep happening to her.

I gulped this novel down because I just had to know if Louise was going to end up in the loony bin or if Miss Brandon’s strangeness meant anything. Fremlin keeps the suspense level really high throughout the novel and, though I wouldn’t call it fast-paced it moves along quickly. It is a very captivating look at the various ways the challenge of motherhood can drive a woman mad.

Have you read any remarkable suspense novels lately?

5 thoughts on “The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin

  1. I have never heard of Celia Fremlin! Now I want to know what’s going on with Miss Brandon, and if poor Louise is right or wrong. Was this the first book of hers that you’ve read?


  2. I like the sound of this. Possibly the poor mother was suffering from post-natal depression, too. I’ll look out for this title. Love vintage Virago.


  3. I remember reading this back when it was published and though the details have gone I remember being impressed. Thank you for the reminder!


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