This is a novel which has found its time. It speaks of a harsh event, the attack on a woman which changes her whole world view. It shows how a confident, able, articulate woman is completely thrown by the actions of an anonymous young man, how her life changes within an hour. No detail is held back, nothing is hidden. The details are all there both of the attack itself and the aftermath. The anguish, the fear, the tearing sorrow. Vivian, the young woman is shown growing up, her first tentative encounters with men, her overwhelming desire to walk, hike, to discover landscape on her own. How this part of her life becomes corrupted so that she can no longer find pleasure in the world around her. It is also a testament to the power of friendship, those who support her in the immediate aftermath, those whose anger against the attacker takes the strain of that emotion from her, even if they can take nothing else. She finds that “Anger is too destructive, too exhausting”.
The very young man who carries out the attack is no faceless stranger to the reader. The first third of the novel alternates between the story of Vivian’s life and the disturbing background of Johnny that has left him the person he is, the person he becomes at the time of the attack. His family are Travellers, permanent outsiders in Ireland, a place where outstanding scenery overlaps with urban deprivation. Not that this book spends too long portraying the scenery, except in describing its effects on the lives of those who live among the squalor. There is a way in which the attack itself despoils the setting, symbolised by a water bottle which falls into an inaccessible spot, a manufactured incursion into the natural backdrop. Johnny is not self -pitying, just full of the needs of young men as he is, the attitude to women, girls, the calculations to achieve temporary satisfaction. Vivian is a target because she is there, alone, and in his sight, available. He fails to understand the enormity of his crime, rationalises it to himself, prepares explanations that will justify what he did to Vivian.
This is an intense book which does not hold back on the telling detail, the mundane nature of life, the sometimes terrifying reality of experience. The ongoing nature of post traumatic stress which is the relentless aftermath of an attack is brilliantly described, Vivian’s life totally changed by the events of one afternoon. This book is written by a survivor of an attack, though a completely fictional treatment of the subject. There is no apology made for the attacker, but some explanation of what he did, and why he attacked Vivian in the way that he did, his self- deceit and self- justification. This is Vivian’s story, the woman “irrevocably changed”. This book gives a burning insight of a life changing event for both the attacker and the attacked, with the hope that there is survival, even recovery. This is not an easy book to read in its subject matter, but it draws the reader in, propelling onwards as a long walk, full of human understanding.
It was really interesting to be on the Blog Tour for Dark Chapter; it is undoubtedly a significant book, winning at least one major prize and a lot of interest. Thanks, Legend Press for the review copy!