Melissa Harrison gives Peter Davidson’s meditation on twilight a short but sweet once-over
The Last of the Light: About Twilight by Peter Davidson
(Reaktion Books, 280 pages, hardback. Out now.)
How to describe a book that, despite careful reading, feels only half-apprehended, its images and references half-read, half-dreamed; a text whose features, in dim light, remain half-turned away from you? The Last of the Light, by Peter Davidson, is deeply allusive yet elusive, too, a meditation on twilight and its role in Western art and literature that is both precise and somehow tenebrous. ‘A cartography of dusk,’ Robert Macfarlane has called it, and it is; but the map it creates is a personal one, as much a reflection of its author as it is of its mysterious subject. Here you will find the long Scottish dusks of Davidson’s home country, William Collins’ ‘Ode to Evening’, and the paintings of John Atkinson Grimshaw; Brideshead Revisited, Giambattista Tiepolo and Davidson’s impressionistic recollections of his childhood in Spain under Franco; the 17th century consort music of William Lawes, Samuel Palmer’s moonscapes and the Poetic Eddas, set against one another as though in murmured conversation. It is a scholarly book, and at times quite opaque; but readers willing to linger will find Davidson’s subtle illumination of the Western cast of mind to be strangely haunting.