The Golden Hour

by: Claire Belberg

190 pages
129mm x 198mm
ISBN: 9781532637896

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SKU: 9781532637896 Category:


Graphic artist and computer hacker, James Elkind, finds himself imprisoned in a windowless room with two women. Who are they and what is this facility they’re trapped in? As they search through the past to try to understand their surreal dilemma, seventeen year old James must confront the contradictions of his identity. Can he escape to find a future, or will this room prove to be his tomb?

About the author

Claire Belberg is a poet and writer living in the Adelaide Hills. She holds a BA in Psychology and an MA in Creative Writing. The Golden Hour is her first novel. You can visit Claire at


  1. Valerie Volk

    The Golden Hour by Claire Belberg – review by Valerie Volk

    “Here wasn’t here when I’d last looked.”

    What an opening sentence for a book!

    From the first moment of reading, we are plunged into a world of uncertainties. Where are we? And who are these three characters? It’s 183 pages later before we really work our way through the maze of doubt and confusion that The Golden Hour presents us with. But what a process of discovery it’s been!

    I read The Golden Hour with total absorption. This is a book you read at one sitting, because you really can’t bear to put it down. You’re hooked, from that intriguing opening sentence and on … The whole concept was striking in its originality, and masterly in the way that it unfolded.

    Three characters find themselves in a locked room, with no recollection of how they have come to be there, and their early discussions are all ones that we too can relate to.

    “There’s got to be a rational explanation for what’s happening,” Eliza insisted. “Maybe something will come to us if we look at all the logical possibilities. Who might want to do this to us?”
    “Could be anyone: Police. Psychiatric facility. Terrorists. Kidnappers.” Naomi jerked the words out as if she were reading a class roll, a class I’d have made a point of skipping.
    “Perhaps someone with a vendetta against one of us, or a case of mistaken identities.” (p. 7)

    But this is no ordinary locked room, and we have the sense that none of their logical suggestions are going to provide answers. For they’ve already found, with growing panic, that there are no windows, or outlets, and the door remains totally impervious to all their efforts to open or destroy it.

    They’re practical, but find this room is completely resistant – the carpet is fused to the walls and can’t be lifted; their three chairs, the only furniture, are made of materials that cannot be dismantled; the light fixture gives no chance of exit. They are trapped.

    It’s the same sort of private hell that Sartre wrote about in his famous play ‘Huis Clos’ (‘No Exit’) but in Claire Belberg’s book we have three characters who have never met, and where there are no connections except the ones they make in this locked room.

    There’s always something intrinsically compelling about locked room situations. Any circumstances where there’s a puzzle element tend to get us in. Added to that is the sense of fear that we identify with; we are at the mercy of someone – or something – that is more powerful than we are. Are we going to be able to escape? Can we deal with it? There’s the element of danger, and that’s something we all relate to.

    The three characters decide to yell for help, just in case someone might hear and free them. But this too is has its own risks, as the boy finds:

    It was a mistake. Shouting let out the panic which had been rising in me since I’d first been aware of the room. I’d been going along with things just fine, telling myself that everything would work out okay. Once I started yelling, I just couldn’t stop. I pounded the door, screaming words until they were indistinguishable. (p. 8)

    We experience what is happening through the eyes of James Elkind, a seventeen year schoolboy, a skilful computer hacker and a graphic artist, filled with all the self-doubts and miseries that only a seventeen year old can feel.

    But his two companions are equally troubled, and as the book proceeds we are allowed into their private worlds and nightmares. Eliza, elegant and beautiful, seductive and disturbed, and Naomi, sturdy middle-aged teacher, logical and determined, but with her own demons to face.

    This is what the book becomes, a sharing of demons, as gradually they realize there is no escape, no one is coming to rescue them, and the shifting relationships among them allows James, and the reader, to know more and more of their inner lives. The surreal quality of the book keeps us in a world of uncertainties, as James grapples to understand what is happening.

    It’s a rare achievement. A book that keeps almost to the classical unities: we have only one setting, that grey room, and a time span that is about the length of time it takes to read this skilful novel. But clever use of flashbacks, to James with his grandfather, to Eliza with the men who have made her what she is, broaden the canvas that the writer works with, and enrich our understanding.

    While none of the three has any memory of what has brought them to this room, as they talk we learn more about their earlier lives, and come to know James’ feelings about the father who seems to have no interest in him, and the tender relationship with his little sister, Angie. We gain a sense of the appeal Eliza has for him:

    I would have liked a pencil and paper to capture the lines of her high cheekbones and the strength of her jawline. Strength and sleekness combined in an almost heart-shaped face. She was exotic, and the wildness suppressed within her strained for release. Getting close to her would be like approaching a wild animal, and I wondered if I could do it. (p. 86)

    I am not going to spoil this book for you by telling you what is discovered by the end of The Golden Hour, nor what the outcome is. That is something you need to work your own way through together with the three characters, and the gradual revelations are worth waiting for. Belberg writes with skill and authority, and her handling of this intriguing plot is confident. It is, as I said at the start, hard to put down.

  2. Mark Worthing (verified owner)

    The Golden Hour is a psychological thriller in the truest and purest sense. There are no car chases, no crazed stalkers, no weapons – nothing but the three very different minds trying to work out why they are sharing the same nightmare. The premise is that three people; a young man named James, from whose point of view the story is told, an attractive young woman named Eliza, whom James increasingly is drawn to, and a middle-aged woman named Naomi all find themselves in a locked room with no windows and no furniture apart from three chairs. As they awkwardly look around their surroundings and begin to talk with one another, they realise that none of them remember how they got into the room, nor do they have any idea why they are there.

    After the initial shock and panic of their situation subsides they begin sharing details of their lives, hoping to discover some common point that connects them all and will help to unravel the mystery. In the process, each character reveals their hidden anxieties and hopes, and James, the youngest, finds himself especially challenged to understand the purpose of his own life, which up to then has been spent mostly playing computer games and hacking programmes for amusement. Each of the characters puts forward several theories along the way as to why they are trapped in this mysterious room, from the absurd to the plausible. It is one of those stories in which the reader, after turning over the last page, says, ‘I should have seen that coming, the clues were all there.’ The thing, of course, is that we didn’t, and therein lies the beauty and the attraction of this clever debut novel by Claire Belberg. We can only hope there are more to come.

  3. May-Kuan Lim (verified owner)

    Three people, one room, no windows and the question: why are we here?

    In her debut novel, The Golden Hour, Claire Belberg juxtaposes the clinical bareness of a waiting room and people stripped of their possessions – no phone, no handbag – against the complex psychology her characters: Eliza the beauty, Naomi the brains and 17-year- old student James Elkind. It is through James’ world, a shy boy who plays computer games and prefers to use the randomness of dice-throw to make life decisions, that Belberg leads the reader to try to figure out the mystery and a way out, if it exists.

    I felt the disorientation of the characters, not knowing if it were a dream, an experiment, a prison or something even more sinister. Their frustration of the characters became mine when the action was necessarily limited to pacing, throwing of chairs and a boot, dialogue and repeated returns to James’ memory for clues to his true self and perhaps a key to escape. As a reader, I strained to know if their dilemma had a reality to it. Only after I speed-read to the end was the undisciplined reader in me able to reread the book slowly, this time appreciating the existential gems sprinkled through the novel like a breadcrumb trail to a thoughtful resolution. The gems here lie in the restrained descriptions – as if my eyes could feel sharpness at the edges of all I could see, the sound of cloth whispering as we moved – and the pithy philosophical treatises trotted out by the characters.
    Eliza: ‘I belong to no one but myself.’
    Naomi: ‘We’ve done our best and it proved to be nothing at all.’
    James: ‘Waiting, but for what and how long?’; ‘I refuse to impress the unnamed critic who sits on my shoulder as I play’; ‘We were all just a bit of gas and fury and then it was over.’

    Belberg uses colour to allude to the state of her characters and not even having a dice to throw (his pockets are empty), James becomes more attuned to his emotions. He sees more vivid colours, and he remembers the very old and the very young in his life. His memory returns, ‘like I’d finally removed that seed stuck between my teeth’, and he starts making headway into the whole existentialist dilemma, and so do I. This is a book I recommend to anyone who has asked the question: why am I here? And if you pause in any waiting room long enough to think about it, is there a more important question to consider?

  4. Kylie Leane – author of Chronicles of the Children Series (verified owner)

    Claire Belberg has written a truly intriguing book in The Golden Hour. Honestly, I don’t want to go into to much detail, otherwise I will spoil the mystery, and to be honest, that is the allure of this story that keeps the pages turning.

    I can say, that as someone who usually doesn’t pick up stories in this genre, that I did enjoy it.

    And as someone who usually doesn’t read stories written in the first person, I highly enjoyed the writing style, and was impressed at just how detailed a world was built inside a single room and with three characters. I felt immersed within the view point of James from the first page.

    Thanks for the fascinating journey Claire.

  5. Trevor Hampel (verified owner)

    A novel with a difference – the story kept me intrigued and guessing until the very end. James, a teenage computer hacker and graphic artist, is trapped inside a mysterious, windowless room. He has no idea how he got there. Two other occupants of the room have no idea how they also came to be in the surreal room. The story delves deeply into the fears, background, family and life of James, and how he relates to his companions. Attempts to escape appear futile – or are they?

    This is a brilliantly written novel filled with a small cast of finely drawn characters. While the reader’s sympathies lie with the protagonist James, strongly portrayed through the author’s first person account, one is also drawn one minute to the other characters of Naomi and Eliza – and then almost immediately repulsed by them through their words, attitudes or actions.

    It is hard to pigeon-hole this novel into a single genre. While there are some elements of fantasy, it does not sit comfortably there in my opinion. Is it a psychological thriller? Hardly – though there are many moments where the reader just has to keep turning the page. Possibly the closest one could get is to describe this novel as speculative fiction. It goes a long way to answering the ubiquitous writers’ question: “What if…?” What if you unexpectedly find yourself locked into a place or situation to which there was no hope of escaping? How would you react?

    As something of an aside, as I read this novel I couldn’t help thinking of the characters in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” The surreal nature of this novel would, in my opinion, translate well to the stage or screen.

    I thank the author for a review copy of this novel.

  6. Morton Benning (verified owner)

    This is a great read. Three people locked in a room with no memory of how they got there and no way to escape.

    A lesser writer might have fallen into the trap of writing three talking heads telling the reader about their backstory and their feelings, but Belberg has managed to create a well-paced and engaging story that explores the inner lives of the three involved, especially the young man, James Elkind, who is the protagonist of the story.

    Definitely, check it out, you won’t regret it.

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