A statement in the front of Daniel Kramb’s recent novel Dark Times reads as follows:
“Parts of earlier versions of this book have appeared, and disappeared, both online and in print, between 2008 and 2010.”
And it is very much true that Dark Times has had a long and non-tradiational genesis. In fact, I reviewed an earlier, shorter version of this work (entitled Collision) in 2009. You can read that review right here. However, a lot has changed in two years, and it would be unfair to consider Dark Times as anything other than a unique work. Indeed, though there are surface similarities, Dark Times is a much richer, more developed story than its predecessor.
Set in London, the novel begins by introducing and then bringing together its four main characters. There is Max, an idealist searching for his perfect job; Lizzie, a would-be artist; Jonathan, a drunken mess of a man; and Sarah, a clock-punching journalist. By chance, these four people are brought together, and their lives begin to change.
And in the above you have the mainstay of the novel. There’s more to it than that of course, but it all feels like ripples expanding from the contact between these four characters. Indeed, beyond that brief synopsis it is very hard to pin down what the “story” actually is. The changes that do occur in the characters are profound, but somewhat unfocussed. It says in the blurb that the book chronicles “the moment ‘the crisis’ hit”, but it is in fact far less dramatic. Nothing hits, as such–at least not until the very end–and even then it’s hard to say whether it’s “the” crisis or not. That said, the back of the book also states the following:
“Dark Times is a love letter to London that has at its core the simmering confusion paralysing a generation that grew up thinking that everything was possible.”
This is much more on the money, and also picks out some of Dark Times‘s greatest strengths. The sense of place and time in the novel is constantly surprising. Kramb’s descriptions of Hackney are both intimate and authentic, and the novel actually feels as though it’s set in the world we live in today, not the several-years-hence world that seems to be the default for modern fiction.
The written style too bears mentioning. Sentences are rendered in a kind of broken verse, with many line breaks leading to a stripped-back and rapid read. At the same time the language is frequently tender and evocative, and the juxtaposition of the two is in places extremely powerful. This clipped yet poetic style gives the prose of Dark Times a frenetic pace, and it’s easy to get sucked in.
Although somewhat difficult to define, Dark Times is a quick read, and full of surprises. It is available from www.danielkramb.com.