Dominic Cooper: Sunrise


After reading Dominic Cooper’s 1975 novel The Dead Of Winter I knew I had to seek out the rest of his meagre back catalogue.  Sunrise was his second published novel and pursues the same themes as his award-winning debut, those of man, forced by circumstances beyond his control, to engage directly with the landscape. In Sunrise it takes Cooper less than 20 pages to unleash his desperate protagonist Murdo Munro into the forests and mountains beyond the remote village of Acheninver. Cooper defines the gestalt of that place in a single paragraph:

Nothing moved. Only the spiralling of the breeze and the occasional cry of a bird marked the relentless passing of the hours. Far below, the village lay pinned flat beneath the rays of the late afternoon sun. Behind the veil of distance, this small human gathering stayed motionless, a fieldmouse in fear of the hawk.

Munro has lived there his entire life and it has gradually begun to psychologically unhinge him. On a hot August day he walks out of his daughter’s wedding, away from his barren marriage, away from his family home (that he douses in petrol and sets alight) and out into the wilderness. This is where Cooper’s prose really begins to hum with vitality as he describes the elemental forces that have shaped and continue to effect the land and its creatures.

Slowly the horizon was being drawn into the forge of the falling sun. The pillar of flame on the sea was breaking up. Across the whole of the western skyline there were signs of collapse as everything was enveloped by the roaring haze. And then, suddenly, as if finally ceding to the pressures of the coming night, the sun cooled to a dull orange, took on a soft redness and, touching the horizon, speedily vanished from sight. At once the sky loosened and thinned, the layers of colours separating and the surface of the sea becoming a scaly sheen of black and silver under the spreading cover of the night.

I’m not sure of the details of Cooper’s own life but the plausibility of Munro’s sense of despair and his yearning to find that something he can’t explain has a strong biographical ring to it. I got the impression Cooper had walked through a similar landscape to that which Munro explores, his heightened emotional state cranking all his senses into the red, profound impressions colliding with his nervous system and his unique imagination. There’s very little plot so Sunrise and, to be honest, plot would have got in the way. I’m reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree here, which similarly invites the reader to just allow themselves to be taken into an internalised terrain that reinvigorates your appreciation for what’s really out there. Highly recommended.


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