PBOTD 14th March: K M Peyton - Darkling

I made an attempt to write this post earlier in the month, but realised when I started I couldn't remember much about the book. So, the post's been delayed until I finally had time to fit in a re-read, and here it is, in honour of Cheltenham Gold Cup day, which is National Hunt, and Darkling's about flat racing, but you'll have to bear with me on that.

Having said that, what Darkling is really about is how difficult it is to grow up when every adult around you is pursuing their own agenda, and your wants and needs are pretty far down the list. Heroine Jenny is in the tradition of Ruth of Fly-by-Night: she's a working class girl, with a family K M Peyton has plunged into a dark and dramatic poverty. Jenny's father suffered a terrible accident which has left him unable to move or talk, and now her mother, Bridie, looks after him. Bridie is terribly, and at times stridently, angry. She is never tender, never kind. Her whole life seems to be one giant cry of rage against the accident to her husband; social services; their landlord and neighbour Jackboots Strawson, and her father. She is a martyr, but her martyrdom only increases her rage. Her children all long to leave home.

Doubleday, first edition, 1989

Jenny's sanctuary is with her grandfather, Murphy. Like his daughter, he determinedly goes his own way. He lives in a ramshackle caravan with an equally ramshackle collection of animals. And one day, he and Jenny go to the bloodstock sales, and Murphy buys a lame colt for £500, and gives it to Jenny. They have nowhere to keep it. Jackboot has immaculate paddocks and stables, but he hates Jenny's family, so there will be no help there. Darkling is constructed a stable out of straw bales, in a tunnel.

Corgi, paperback, 1991
Unlike Ruth, Jenny maintains her passion for horses, as well as her passion for a boy - in this case, Goddard, Jackboot's eldest son. Jenny has had a chequered school career: her mother wants Jenny to stay at home and help her, and school have ducked out of the difficulty of confronting Bridie. Darkling will provide Jenny with a means of escape: if she can get one of the local trainers to agree to take a half share in him, and let her work as his lad while the horse is trained, it will secure their future. And so it does, thereabouts, despite the behaviour of the adults around Jenny, which at times threaten to scupper the whole thing.

This book is a testament to how someone can grow up as a decent human being despite the appalling behaviour of the adults around them. It also makes one despair at the arrant selfishness so many of the people in Jenny's life display, which makes the unquenchable spirit Jenny, and Goddard's younger brother, Straw, display, all the more remarkable. You can't help but root for them.

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Darkling was originally published by Doubleday in 1989. It appeared in a paperback edition published by Corgi, and has now been republished by Random House (2013) in a cover which appears identical to the Corgi.

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For much more on K M Peyton, she has a section on my website.


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