Tuesday, 8 January 2013

After the Darkness by Honey Brown

I picked up After the Darkness by Honey Brown for a few reasons. First, I'd heard very good things about her debut novel Red Queen (which I still want to read but have yet to get my hands on), second, it was only $3 on iBooks, third, it sounded like something I could count towards my new Aussie Horror Reading Challenge and finally, I read the sample and had to keep reading. This review contains vague, non-essential spoilers.

After the Darkness is the story of married couple with three kids, Trudy and Bruce, told from Trudy's point of view. On the way home from a holiday away from the kids down the Great Ocean Road, the couple stop at a small art gallery on a whim. The art is creepy and Trudy has a bad feeling the entire time they're there. A feeling that's entirely vindicated when the owner-artist drugs and assaults them. They escape and the bulk of the narrative is about them dealing with the repercussions of what happened in the gallery.

There is a lot of interesting psychology in this book. Bruce was victimised (and fair warning: tortured and sexually assaulted, mostly off the page) to a greater extent than Trudy and had a harder time coping with it after the fact. Which isn't to say that Trudy didn't have post-traumatic stress flashbacks. Initially, though, Trudy was the one that had to hold everything together. A nice change from the woman being the greater victim. In that respect, it's also a story about how the patriarchy society makes it harder for men to express their feelings and talk about their vulnerability. I strongly feel that if their victim-roles had been reversed, the story of their respective coping would have played out very differently.

Although the book is called After the Darkness, it's really about how hard it is to leave the darkness behind. This paragraph, just as they're making their escape, highlights the early struggles they face:
The terror actually heightened as we left. The open garage gaped behind us. My body grew rigid. It was difficult to steer or accelerate. I think a part of me knew even then that we weren't leaving, not really. Some things you don't escape from.
It's also about how darkness is often contagious, touching on the way in which abuse victims often go on to re-enact their trauma as a way of coming to terms with it. And the hopelessness that comes with fearing for your life. And having to relate to people in a life you have to pretend is normal. This line illustrates that sentiment nicely, when Trudy is trying to relate to her friends again:
Brutality somehow managed to make a mockery of everything that was not brutal.
The prose in After the Darkness was lovely. From the beginning, before anything bad happens, when I knew Brown was sprinkling in a bit of mundane normality for later comparison, I was immediately engaged. Trudy and Bruce started off as a happy couple, which deteriorated into a traumatised couple later on. However, I liked that their experience didn't drive a wedge between them. They hadn't suffered in the same way, but they didn't drift apart in their suffering. Indeed, the fact that the other was the only one who could come close to understanding what happened, kept them close.

It's debatable how much of a horror book this is and how much psychological drama or thriller. But there's a lot of the feeling of creeping dread (which I think is my new favourite term for describing horror), and many horrific elements, coming both from within and without, so I would definitely class it as horror. Which isn't to say readers of crime or contemporary books won't enjoy it and count it within their genres.

I highly recommend After the Darkness to anyone after a creepy read. I read it quite quickly and found it difficult to put down. I think it will appeal broadly to readers of several genres, particularly those that enjoy their creepiness and psychological drama in a contemporary Australian setting.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2012, Penguin Australia
Format read: ebook
Source: iBookstore (link)
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013, Aussie Horror Reading Challenge

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