The Bird of Night is one of my favourite Susan Hill books, and it’s about a relationship between two men which isn’t overtly homosexual, but is still fairly obviously homoerotic. Perhaps under the hood there is something more going on, but that’s life, and especially British life for you — everything understated and locked away.

The main thing locked away in the Bird of Night is the madness of the protagonist, which is most striking. The thing about mental illness is that when it’s happening to you or your loved ones, giving it names and trying to pin it down just often doesn’t work, and so with so little disclosed about the illness, this seems to work really well. If for example, The Bird of Night had explicitly stated that this was a story about a schizophrenic, we’d already be nailing things down, and pigeonholing the illness into various forms we may attempt to understand.

As it happens, we just plunge straight in — the opening is one of the creepiest things I know — and the resulting prose is a very fair look at what this sort of illness implies, and does to people.   As I say, this is one of my favourite Susan Hill’s, but the author disagrees. I’ve seen her quoted as saying in 2006 that “it was a book I have never rated. I don't think it works, though there are a few good things in it. I don't believe in the characters or the story.”

That must be the great thing about being an artist; you can put works out into the world and somebody somewhere is going to love them, even if you don’t.

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