Dan Belmont's story, Diamond Jubilee, is a tightly packed piece of historical fiction. This realistic story bristles with mystery - how many bodies were buried, who did they belong to? What we love about this story is that it comes running out of the gate with its first line: "She buried them all in the same day, lost to a war no history book will ever mention." Much of the text reads like an oral history being told over the hearth at the small-town bar or whispered between young lovers at the sight of the woman.
This story deals with grief, with loss, with the unknown. On one level, it is a piece of realistic historical fiction rendered with all the details one would expect. Physical details abound: the "donations left each morning on her doorstep. Fresh bread, leftover food, small sums of money," for example. Belmont uses just enough physical grounding to keep the story realistic, but leans heavily on the narrative voice in order to, at the same time, make it seem like an oral history.
The ultimate mystery of the story is: who is the woman? On the surface, and in the realistic context of the story's arc, she is a real person dealing with a real, nebulous grief. But a different reading might say that the woman represents the obscured, unclear grief in all of us. The woman represents the true grief in each of our lives that, so often, we're unable to communicate to each other. Just as "Only she could tell the truth, but who would ask her?", we can rarely know the difficulties that our friends and acquaintances face. Unwritten social rules often make it impossible to ask, because what would we say if they told us the truth? Just like the villagers and the old woman, we are often incapable of sharing, incapable of asking.
Dan Belmont's brilliant story toes the line between the realistic and the figurative. By one reading, Diamond Jubilee is a tragic story of real events. By another, it is a reflection on our own inability to share and understand the grief of others. It is a testament to the author's talent to build such depth out of a story that only takes 90 seconds to read. Check it out on Chronicle.
About the author:
Dan Belmont is a journalist and fiction writer based in Southampton, UK.