This may seem a perverse time to be reading The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare; however, I have my reasons. I first met the author and broadcaster in Munich. The Literaturhaus is a glorious place to meet like-minded artistic folk. Yet, it was a few days later in the beating heat of the German countryside that we talked openly and with that rare candour which seems only ever to emerge – fleetingly – in moments of stillness. Nantesbuch is a small stretch of wilderness, some few miles north of Penzberg. Clare puffed on a cigarette and described his journal as a process of reflection upon his seasonal depression. I countered that summer was in fact the most sobering time of the year for me. He smiled – lit a further cigarette – and that was the end of that.
Sean O’Hagan – writing in The Guardian – puts it best when he notes the text to be haunted by depression, rather than taking it as subject. Darkness as a metaphor may seem heavy-handed to some readers; however, it has its roots in a clinical truth, and one which many people experience first-hand: depression manifests in winter’s darkened climes.
The Light in the Dark is indeed a journal of sorts. However, the text is less absorbed in the present as it is concerned by the interrelation between present and past. The text – edited chronologically – roams across time periods; notably, Clare touches upon his unique Welsh upbringing. The focus on rhythm and cyclicality (particularly in relation to livestock) grinds away at the perceived wisdom of linear time. In this regard, I was left reminded of Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness. The journal is a series of vignettes in which – strangely for a diary – time does not matter so much as feeling, impression and expression.
By Clare’s own confession, this is a therapeutic exercise. The labours of writing becoming a pillar against which Clare anchors his emotional disquiet. We are not spared the mundane nor the cumbersome hum of everyday life; and yet, the lack of narrative event ceases to be problematic as the text wraps around the reader into a cloak of absorbing contemplation. Philosophy and nature writing meet in this short autobiography; both are all the richer for the marriage.
The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare is published by Elliott & Thompson, pp. 208