Friday, 18 May 2018

Darling by Rachel Edwards: Review

Darling is billed as a “reading group thriller”, which sounded a bit strange. (What *is* a reading group thriller? If I don’t have a reading group, am I still allowed to read it?) I think it just means there’s a lot of food for discussion in this book, which I suppose is true. I can certainly imagine a few debates, possibly heated, being sparked.

It’s also dubbed a “Brexit thriller”, which sounded kind of appealing and also kind of not, because if I never had to hear the word Brexit again I would be more than happy (I know, not gonna happen), but still... Brexit thriller, intriguing concept.

Anyway... Darling (who is black) and Thomas (who is white) meet by chance on the day of the Brexit result and fall in love - and marry - very quickly. There’s a major fly in the ointment, though, in the shape of Thomas’s sixteen year old daughter Lola, who doesn’t really want a new stepmother, particularly not a black one. Lola’s at pains to tell us she’s not racist (though she really kind of is - but that’s only one of many ways in which Lola is dangerously screwed up).

Lola needs to take back control. Lola needs rid of Darling.

But Darling is a nurse, a caregiver - single parent to a disabled son, the adorable Stevie - and she’s sure she can win Lola over with enough lovingly prepared meals and patience.

Then again, Darling has her secrets, too.

Narrated alternately by Darling and through Lola’s notebooks, the voices of both characters are compelling and the tension builds throughout.

I’m not sure about “Brexit thriller”, but the book certainly does evoke the landscape of post-referendum Britain and its newly emboldened racists - here, a toxic far-right group of idiots calling itself Bright New Britain (the BNP, basically, with a dollop of UKIP and the EDL thrown in for bad measure), with whom Lola gets somewhat embroiled. All of this is sadly only too believable.

Darling is a superbly crafted story which immediately drew me in, and never felt predictable - whenever I thought I knew where the plot was going, I was invariably wrong, and the end is surprising. Rachel Edwards deftly led me down several wrong turns in the process.

A very, very impressive debut which I would highly recommend.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey: Review

"Whistle in the Dark" begins with an ending, of sorts. Lana, a depressed fifteen-year-old who has been missing for four days, having disappeared from a holiday in the Peak District, has returned safely, much to the relief of her frantic parents. But Lana won't say where she's been, only repeating rather unhelpfully that she "got lost". The story follows Lana's distraught mother Jen as she struggles, mainly unsuccessfully, to communicate with her daughter and unravel the alarming mystery of what's happened to her during those four days, 

I loved this book, Emma Healey's second after the highly successful Elizabeth is Missing. "Whistle in the Dark" is a very different but, for me, an equally compelling read. It's a difficult story to categorise - not a psychological thriller, not a family drama although there are elements of both, along with a definite dash of the dark and sinister. It seems everyone has their own ideas, some very bizarre, about where Lana's been. Where does the truth lie, and what has the effect on Lana been?

There's a hint of the unreliable narrator about Jen, who admits to having apparently hallucinated people and conversations in the past. Random appearances of a cat they don't own, overheard conversations in Lana's room - what's real and what's imaginary?

Ultimately Jen's distress and frustration at her strained relationship and failure to communicate with Lana are very believable - the situation she's in is awful and it's no wonder her imagination runs riot at times. Some reviewers have complained of finding Lana unlikeable - I don't think she's meant to be all that likeable for much of the story, as she certainly doesn't act in likeable ways, even if we can sympathise with her mental distress. But maybe that's the point because love never falters, even when constantly challenged.

The story is written in quite a fragmented way with lots of little interludes and ruminations on various things, and I really enjoyed this style of storytelling. All in all, a great read which I found very satisfying,