My review of Venetia Welby’s debut novel: Mother of Darkness.

Mother of Darkness by Venetia Welby.

I loved this book. I read it twice. The beautifully designed hardback edition from Quartet Books was part of the pleasure, and the empathy that the author managed to instil in me for Matty, her main character, did the rest. At 21, and a UCL student living in his own Soho flat, Matty could have been the hero of a brilliant coming of age story, but instead he shows signs of weaving a Greek tragedy around himself. The novel opens with Matty in his flat: ‘Under the sink, collecting drips and beard hair,…..The Oresteia ___ that had been a degree-time favourite. Matty had every sympathy for Orestes the mother-killer. What choice did he have? Matty’s father had called him that once. He’d liked Oedipus the father-killer too ___ and he feels he probably did bring on his father’ suicide just by being a disappointing son. There are a few philosophy texts under there too. Plato, Aristotle, Locke, a series of papers on personal identity: there’s a particular sort of girl, easily spotted that rips her knickers for this kind of stuff. An Matty had been genuinely interested in it once. It’s just that university was too straitjacketing, way too structuring.’ So Matty is an orphaned dropout, and something he cannot face has just befallen his long-time girlfriend and his younger brother. On top of that, the bulldozers are at work in old Soho. The Soho that I remember from my youth, apparently is long gone, and the once rather louche but vibrant quarter is gentrified out of existence. ‘And Matty doesn’t want a luxury flat in a stunning new apartment block. He wants Soho to be as it was.’ Except that Matty never knew Soho as it was, except by reputation, just as he has no real, conscious memory of his mother. But Fix, his dealer, who lives just around the corner, comes to the rescue. Venetia Welby’s prose is highly lyrical and interspersed with poetry. She also includes notes from Matty’s psychotherapist, which are inserted between their weekly meetings, and transcripts from the life writings that Matty has sent her. These notes could easily be skipped by a reader in a hurry, but I would advise giving them some thought. They portray a woman focussed solely on searching for the minutiae that will justify her pre-ordained diagnoses of Matty’s state, an attitude which blinds her to her patient’s real needs, probably for rehab, and has tragic consequences, all too common in the way we deal, or rather don’t deal, with mental health in this country. And in the end, I found myself wishing that everyone would read this book, for the insights that it gives into this very important subject. Overall, Mother of Darkness, is a remarkable debut by a talented young writer, and I wish it every success.

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