Dunmore, Helen 1952–
Dunmore, Helen 1952–
PERSONAL: Born 1952 in Yorkshire, England; married; children: one daughter, one son, one stepson. Education: York University, B.A., 1973.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o A.P. Watt Ltd., 20 John St., London WC1N 2DR, England.
CAREER: Writer. Has worked as reader, performer and, teacher of poetry and creative writing. Past associations with Arvon Foundation and the Poetry Society's Writer in Schools scheme; instructor at University of Glamorgan, University of Bristol's Continuing Education Department, Open College of the Arts. Contributes to arts programs on BBC Radio.
MEMBER: Royal Society of Literature (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: Alice Hunt Bartlett award, 1987, for The Sea Skater; McKitterick Prize, 1994, for Zennor in Darkness; Signal Poetry Award, 1995, for Secrets; Orange Prize for fiction, 1996, for A Spell of Winter; shortlisted for T.S. Eliot prize, for Bestiary; shortlisted for Whitbread Novel Award, 2001, and Orange Prize for Fiction, 2002, both for The Siege; Cardiff International Poetry Prize.
The Apple Fall, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1983.
The Sea Skater, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1986.
The Raw Garden, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1988.
Short Days, Long Nights: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1991.
Recovering a Body, Bloodaxe (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1994.
Secrets: A Collection of Poems from Hidden Worlds (for children), Bodley Head (London, England), 1994.
Bestiary, Bloodaxe/Dufour Editions (Chester Springs, PA), 1997.
(With Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney) Penguin Modern Poets 12, Penguin (London, England), 1997.
Snollygoster and Other Poems (for children), Scholastic (London, England), 2001.
Out of the Blue: Poems, 1975–2001, Bloodaxe (Tarset, Northumberland, England), 2001.
Going to Egypt, MacRae (London, England), 1992.
Zennor in Darkness, Penguin (London, England), 1993.
In the Money (for children), Red Fox (London, England), 1993.
Burning Bright, Penguin (London, England), 1994.
A Spell of Winter, Viking (London, England), 1995, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Allie's Apples, Methuen, 1995.
Go Fox!, Young Corgi, 1996.
Fatal Error, Yearling, 1996.
Talking to the Dead, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
Love of Fat Men (short stories), Viking (London, England), 1997.
Clyde's Leopard (Cambridge Reading Series), Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1998.
Great-Grandma's Dancing Dress (Cambridge Reading Series), Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1998.
Your Blue-Eyed Boy, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1998.
Allie's Rabbit, Mammoth, 1999.
Brother, Brother, Sister, Sister (for adolescents), Scholastic (London, England), 1999.
With Your Crooked Heart, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Ice Cream (short stories) Grove Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Aliens Don't Eat Bacon Sandwiches, Mammoth, 2000.
Allie Away, Mammoth, 2000.
Zillah and Me, Scholastic (London, England), 2000.
The Siege, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2001.
The Zillah Rebellion (for adolescents), 2001.
Amina's Blanket, illustrated by Paul Dainton, Crabtree (New York, NY), 2003.
The Silver Bead, Scholastic (London, England), 2003.
Mourning Ruby, Viking (London, England), 2003, Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.
The Seal Cove, Scholastic (London, England), 2004.
The Lilac Tree, 2004.
Mourning Ruby, Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.
Ingo, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
(With others) Poetry Quartet 5 (audio), Bloodaxe Books 1999.
Contributor of reviews to the London Times and London Observer.
ADAPTATIONS: Burning Bright was serialized on BBC Radio's Woman's Hour. Zennor in Darkness has been optioned for film.
SIDELIGHTS: Helen Dunmore is an award-winning English author with diverse talents and credits; she has published poetry collections, adult novels, and fiction and poetry for children. Dunmore's first novel published in the United States is the gothic Talking to the Dead, a Freudian tale of two sisters who share a haunted past. "The book's prelude," pointed out a Publishers Weekly critic, is "a searing prose poem so evocative that it renders almost palpable the yew-scent of a sizzling hot summer graveyard." Isabel, the beautiful, older sister, gives birth to a son, nearly dies during childbirth, and, as a result, must undergo a hysterectomy. Nina, a London-based photographer who narrates the story, then travels to the country to stay with Isabel and her husband, Richard, in their secluded farmhouse home with a walled garden Isabel lovingly nurtures. After her child's birth, Isabel seems more fragile and remote than ever. The now-barren Isabel abandons her garden and slowly spirals into madness, leaving Nina to tend to her once-beloved apple trees. The interactions of others in the house—the nanny, Isabel's gay confidante, her husband, and the baby—all bring into sharper focus the sisters' relationship. Beneath their seeming closeness and easy intimacy lie hidden layers of duplicity, jealousy, and cruelty, not least of which is Nina's luring of her brother-in-law, Richard, into a torrid sexual affair. Nina begins remembering long-buried, disturbing memories of the apparent crib death of Colin, their infant brother, some twenty-five years ago, and the tragic event's devastating consequences.
Carmela Ciuraru wrote in Entertainment Weekly: "Truth proves slippery in his startling novel—you'll find yourself anxious right up to its bitter, heartbreaking conclusion." In Booklist, GraceAnne DeCandido found Dunmore to be "pitiless in her exposure of her characters …," and, consequently, "none of them inspire empathy." Despite her cautions, DeCandido stated: "Dunmore is a very deeply sensual writer: heat and shimmer, food and water, texture and scent are beautifully realized." In a People Weekly review, Paula Chin declared the novel "sensual, delectable and chilling…. The prose is limpid—the descriptions of food are voluptuous, the sex scenes urgent and raw—and Dunmore's plotting is masterful."
Your Blue-Eyed Boy, Dunmore's 1998 book, tells of thirty-eight-year-old Simone, a mother of two young boys who is struggling to keep her family financially solvent. Her fragile existence is further undermined by recurring memories of a childhood trauma. She has recently accepted a position as district judge in their remote seaside village in her native England, not out of a desire to explore career opportunities, but in sheer desperation to keep the family out of bankruptcy, while her husband, unemployed and emotionally on the verge of ruin, cares for their sons. But her already stressful life suddenly takes a turn for the worse when Michael, an American Vietnam veteran with whom Simone had a sexual relationship some two decades ago when she was eighteen and spending the summer in the New England resort town of Annasett, sends her a very intense letter that includes nude photos of the two of them together. His contacts escalate from letters to telephone calls; then he arrives in her village, eager to renew his obsessive fantasy relationship with Simone, whom he has nurtured in memory as his one true love during the past twenty years, part of which he spent in a mental hospital. Although he claims he just wants her to return to America with him, Simone fears that Michael intends to blackmail her with the nude photos taken by his war buddy, Calvin, whom she recalls as a constantly intrusive and disturbing presence in their relationship.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted how "the novel's marsh-country setting, where bogs can swallow people whole, is a fearsome metaphor for a life abundant with insecurity and tension." In a Library Journal review of Your Blue-Eyed Boy, Caroline M. Hallsworth stated: "Dunmore's writing is adept and her plot solid, if somewhat predictable. However, Simone never emerges as a truly sympathetic character." Booklist critic Vanessa Bush noted: "Dunmore has written a compelling novel about reconciling desires of the past with responsibilities of the present."
Louise, the antiheroine of With Your Crooked Heart, is a spoiled, rich, beautiful woman, who, after ten years of unsuccessfully trying, is finally pregnant. She is married to Paul, a wealthy and ruthless real-estate developer who has made his fortune converting dilapidated buildings into luxury apartments and selling contaminated land. Paul is indulgent to the extreme with both his wife and Johnnie, his younger—by some ten-odd years—far-more-handsome and charismatic, hoodlum brother. While Paul has escaped the mean streets of their poverty-stricken childhood, Johnnie fouls up every opportunity presented to him by his doting elder sibling, while consorting with petty criminals and drug dealers and involving himself in crime and cocaine deals. However, Louise's seemingly idyllic life conceals a dark secret—the baby she is carrying was fathered by Johnnie in a late-night tryst in a squalid city park.
The book quickly jumps forward by a decade. Louise is fat, alcoholic, and divorced. Paul has secured custody of ten-year-old Anna, and has retreated, along with the icy, horse riding-obsessed Sonia, to a mansion in Yorkshire, making it nearly impossible for Louise to exercise her visitation rights. Young Anna finds it difficult to fit in at her new school; she is, for the most part, distrusted and rejected by her country classmates who resent her wealth and "airs". Sonia's maternal mode seems to be patterned on the fairy-tale archetype of wicked stepmother. Anna's savior, of sorts, is her gentlemanly classmate and best friend, David Ollerenshaw, with whom she saves an orphaned kitten, a nurturing act that serves to help keep her mind off her own troubles. Paul's shocking act of cruelty to Charlie Sullivan, an aging crook who had been responsible for Paul's first big break, backfires and brings retribution in the form of contracted thugs who target Johnnie and Louise, who then flee to Harwich. Concurrently, little Anna, accompanied by her friend David, runs away from home and heads south towards her mother's home, not realizing Louise is running for her life. Tragedy ensues in the denouement. Noting the "chicanery" and "betrayal" performed by the characters throughout the story, Dana Kennedy wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "there's no real light in this twisting, sensually written tale." A Publishers Weekly reviewer enjoyed the author's "sharp, elegant prose," and "Dunmore's eye for contemporary detail and her light, sensuous prose."
Mourning Ruby's narrator, Rebecca, is an orphan who was raised by unloving adoptive parents. It is only when she shares a flat with Joe, a friend who is a writer, that she is introduced to true companionship. It is through Joe that she meets her future husband, Adam, a neonatologist (an obstetric and newborn care specialist), who later fathers her only child, Ruby. "Given the book's title, Ruby's death is no surprise (though it's still heartbreaking without being melodramatic), and Dunmore plumbs the consequences of loss: How does one mourn, and then accept, the unacceptable?," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Dumnore interweaves other stories into Rebecca's narrative, one told by Rebecca's boss, a hotelier named Mr. Damiano who grew up in a circus and whose parents were trapeze artists. Writing in Kliatt, Nancy Zachary felt that each narrative introduces readers "to magnificently drawn characters who move back and forth, putting together the mysteries of Rebecca's life" and even the book's minor characters are "memorable."
After Ruby's death, Adam immerses himself in his work and Rebecca once again turns to Joe and also to Mr. Damiano for help in creating a life without her daughter. Booklist contributor Carol Haggas concluded: "Told with abundant grace and exquisite sensitivity, this is a book to fall in love with, to hold in your heart like a cherished memory."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Booklist, May 1, 1997, GraceAnne DeCandido, review of Talking to the Dead, p. 1477; May 15, 1998, Vanessa Bush, review of Your Blue-Eyed Boy, p. 1594; December 15, 1999, Michelle Kaske, review of With Your Crooked Heart, p. 756; February 1, 2004, Carol Haggas, review of Mourning Ruby, p. 949.
Entertainment Weekly, August 8, 1997, Carmela Ciuraru, review of Talking to the Dead, p. 75.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1997, review of Talking to the Dead; April 15, 1998, review of Your Blue-Eyed Boy.
Kliatt, May, 2005, Nancy Zachary, review of Mourning Ruby, pp. 23-25.
Library Journal, May 15, 1998, Caroline M. Hallsworth, review of Your Blue-Eyed Boy, p. 113.
New York Times Book Review, June 1, 1997, Carol Kino, "Hot and Sinful," review of Talking to the Dead; March 12, 2000, Dana Kennedy, review of With Your Crooked Heart.
People Weekly, September 29, 1997, Paula Chin, review of Talking to the Dead, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, May 5, 1997, review of Talking to the Dead, p. 194; April 27, 1998, review of Your Blue-Eyed Boy p. 44; November 29, 1999, review of With Your Crooked Heart, p. 50; February 9, 2004, review of Mourning Ruby, p. 55.
Bloodaxe Books Web site, http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ (October 28, 2003), author profile.
British Council: Contemporary Writers, http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (October 28, 2003), author profile.