The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin

Forgotten psychological mystery from the 1950s: The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin

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The Hours Before Dawn is a gripping psychological mystery originally published in 1958. This new edition of the book termed a “lost classic” is a fantastic chance to read a simple yet tense story about a woman who just wishes her baby would stop crying in the night so she could sleep. Louise is exhausted and this does not help her growing suspicions about their new lodger—suspicions that her husband does not share—or her ability to perform the role of a perfect Fifties housewife.

The mystery element of the novel follows the trope of a woman battling her own issues (in this case sleep deprivation and the pressures of being a woman, wife, and mother) whilst trying to prove that she is not becoming paranoid as a result of them. Though it was written fifty years ago, the book has a timeless kind of feel, without many time-specific details and with a general sense of the universality of a woman not being believed and struggling to deal with societal and familial pressures. In some ways, however, the novel says a lot about a woman’s position in the 1950s in particular, with comments about how different mothers view advice on raising their children for example, but it also shows that many elements do not change. Louise’s struggle to keep her house and children in order to stop the neighbours asking questions could have been written in the modern day.

This new edition has a preface talking about the reissue and a useful biographical note about Celia Fremlin that give context to the book. However, it does not need context, as it is a sharp-witted and timeless psychological story about crime, paranoia, and sleeplessness, which deserves to be discovered by new generations of readers.