ShortBookandScribes #BookReview – Hold Back the Night by Jessica Moor

Hold Back the Night by Jessica Moor is published by Manilla Press and is available in hardcover, eBook and audiobook. My thanks to EDPR and the publishers for the proof copy.

From the Observer debut novelist of the year, comes a blistering, heart-wrenching new novel of complicity and atonement, delving into one nurse’s experience of the little-known history of conversion therapy and the heart-breaking betrayal of the AIDS crisis.

March 2020. Annie is alone in her house as the world shuts down, only the ghosts of her memories for company. But then she receives a phone call which plunges her deeper into the past.

1959. Annie and Rita are student nurses at Fairlie Hall mental hospital. Working long, gruelling hours, they soon learn that the only way to appease their terrifying matron is to follow the rules unthinkingly. But what is happening in the hospital’s hidden side wards? And at what point does following the rules turn into complicity – and betrayal?

1983. Annie is reeling from the loss of her husband and struggling to face raising her daughter alone. Following a chance encounter, she offers a sick young man a bed for the night, a good deed that soon leads to another. Before long, she finds herself entering a new life of service – her home a haven for those who are cruelly shunned. But can we ever really atone?

The powerful and captivating new novel from the celebrated author of KEEPER and YOUNG WOMEN, HOLD BACK THE NIGHT is Jessica Moor’s most powerful and commercial book to date. A darkly compelling character-led novel, drawing on themes of complicity and betrayal, it is bursting with talking points and absolutely perfect for reading groups.

Hold Back the Night is set over three time periods: the late 1950s, the early 1980s and in 2020, the latter taking place during the first Covid lockdown. Annie steps forward in each timeline as the main character. She’s living alone in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic whilst thinking back to the AIDS crisis in the 80s and how she took in men who were sick and had nowhere else to go, and to her time as a naïve young nurse working in a mental hospital in 1959 and how what she witnessed and dealt with there informed her later actions. Each thread ties into the others beautifully and heartbreakingly.

This is the third of Jessica Moor’s books that I have read and I’ve found each to be hard-hitting in a kind of understated way – I feel like they creep up on me, pulling me in and making me care about the characters and consider what it is to be human, every so often delivering a plot point that really packs a punch. In many ways I had anticipated Annie would turn out to be a crusader in the 80s strand, when really she just quietly got on with it, and this quiet determination very much reflected her character in general. Even so, this is a powerful and shocking story which illustrates prejudice and intolerance, and a woman eventually atoning for her complicity, coming full circle by the end of the book.

Hold Back the Night is written with thoughtfulness and sensitivity and Moor is a talented writer, tackling difficult and important subjects so very well.

Jessica Moor studied English at Cambridge before completing a Creative Writing MA at Manchester University. Moor was selected as one of the Observer’s debut novelists of 2020, and her first novel, Keeper was chosen by the Sunday Times, Independent and Cosmopolitan as one of their top debuts of the year. Keeper was nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize and an Edgar Award. Young Women is her second novel.


  • I enjoyed her previous book, Young Women, and I was tempted by this one when I saw it on NetGalley. However, I’m a bit put off by the description of it as her ‘most… commercial book to date’. That makes it sound like some of the nuances might have been toned down?

    • I don’t know why it’s described like that. I didn’t see it as any more commercial than her others. Give it a go if you enjoyed Young Women (I think Keeper is still my favourite of her three).

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