BOOK REVIEW / DHL and the woman in love: 'Zennor in Darkness' - by Helen Dunmore: Viking, 14.95

WHEN D H Lawrence and his wife Frieda lived in Zennor in 1917, the local Cornish villagers were suspicious of them, partly because Frieda was German, partly because Lawrence spoke fiercely against the war. This novel gives fictional life to a group of young people at the edge of this drama, and invents a precise occasion for the Lawrences' eventual exile from Cornwall.

Lawrence was one of the greatest letter writers in the English language, and Helen Dunmore, a young poet with a strong sense of place, has made good use of this mine of material: there is a convincing portrait of Frieda as healthy, lazy, and longing for cakes and whipped cream, and Lawrence, enjoying the smells of turned earth, or eagerly making a tea of eggs and fresh bread for visitors. Their relation to one another is only hinted at. Dunmore has chosen to report rather than present their savage quarrels, Lawrence's wretched sense of failure after the suppression of The Rainbow, and the collapse of his hope for communal living with John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield. The novel really belongs to Clare Coyne and her shell-shocked lover John William, who is too obsessed with the friends who have died to escape the horror of the trenches. The best scenes in the book are those in which Clare recalls childish sexual play on the beach, or follows her lover off into the moonlight to make love for the first time at the edge of a cliff.

Zennor In Darkness is a first novel, and far from flawless; Helen Dunmore moves too readily from one person's consciousness to another, and at first the present tense seems awkward, even pretentious. Nevertheless, we believe in Clare's foxy-faced intelligence, talent and passion, and it is something of a triumph that the dense pleasures of landscape and texture never overpower our involvement in her story.