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No light read with this dark tale
Into the Darkest Corner - Elizabeth Haynes
Member Name: Mildew82
Into the Darkest Corner - Elizabeth Haynes
Advantages: Gripping, emotionally affecting read
Disadvantages: Not for the faint hearted
Into the Darkest Corner, written by Elizabeth Haynes originally in 2008 for the National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) but not actually published until 2011, gives a fascinating and dark insight into a world of domestic abuse from a physical, emotional and psychological viewpoint and shows just how easy it could be to fall prey to a dangerous sociopath and just how far reaching the consequences can be. The book gets off to a bit of a bang as we are thrown right into the middle of the story with an excerpt from a court case involving one Mr Brightman as he reveals how he "never meant to hurt his troubled and highly unstable girlfriend" followed by an unconnected and brutal murder scene of a young woman Naomi by a mysterious assailant which immediately sets the benchmark for the level of danger you can expect from this story.
I particularly enjoyed the style of writing which was to almost tell the story through diary like entries (though spoken as opposed to written) from Cathy's first person narration with two parallel timelines, one beginning in 2003 and the other beginning in 2007. The story jumps back and forth effortlessly without any confusion and is a clever device to highlight the startling changes that have befallen our heroine Cathy as a result of her abuse. The depiction of Cathy's crippling OCD in the present day with such things as only going shopping on even numbered days, drinking tea at particular times of the day, checking doors and windows are locked in a very specific way for a specific number of times and where any kind of failure could well result in severe panic and anxiety felt both realistic and harrowing by the way we were forced to live through it with Cathy. For me, this book was a real eye opener into the potential psychology surrounding OCD and I thought the level of suffering it can cause when it's at its worst was beautifully portrayed in this book through the impression of first-hand experience. Empathy with Cathy's character is inevitable and as a result you care instantly for her so the pain she suffers and threats to her have a genuine effect on you.
It's just so easy for somebody that has never experienced any kind of abuse from a supposed loved one to say "well why doesn't she just leave him, it really cannot be that hard!" but this novel shows the ever increasing psychological manipulation and obsessive infiltration into the life of a victim and how self doubt can overwhelm common sense leaving them utterly vulnerable to the abuser in a genuinely terrifying and unnerving way. This book also shows how an abuser can affect the closest people to their victims by also manipulating them into doubting their friend or relative, which is even more devastating for the victim as a sense of isolation adds to their psychological torture and pushes them further into the clutches of their abuser. The abuse depicted in this book does become quite disturbing at times with some shocking levels of cruelty, exacerbated even more so by the complete defeatism shown by Cathy at her darkest times which is very upsetting and certainly evokes a great feeling of anger and abhorrence to the events unfolding.
The switching between timeframes also allows the author to cut the story off just as you are learning about significant events from Cathy's past or as things are progressing in the present which means pretty much every entry ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger and thus we have the perfect recipe for a bona fide page turner. The tension throughout the book is a slow burner but is just captivating enough that you find yourself compelled to keep reading to try to get some much needed answers from the constant anvil shaped hints being dropped. With this book I found myself reading it on the train into work, on my lunch break, on the train back and then finally at home until I was done in under 2 days which is very speedy for me and I think shows just how completely gripping this story was.
I felt the characterisation was also intriguing as we could only build a picture of each character from Cathy's perspective so there was a big element of potential bias in everything we knew about them, although there was a brutal honesty and candidness to Cathy's story that never gave any real reason for doubt. Lee, probably the most important character to get right, was incredibly scary with his disarmingly sexy good looks and charming charisma acting as a mask for a dangerous and cruel master manipulator lurking beneath. The way Cathy knew she was being manipulated and still couldn't escape was particularly chilling and again hits home the psychological damage these type of abusive relationships can cause. The relationship dynamic between Cathy and all her friends was also fascinating to observe in the way that they failed to spot her abuse and began to pull away when she needed them the most as a direct result of Lee's interference which adds another frightening element to the systematic destruction he intended.
But it was not all doom and gloom as even though the 2003 timeline showed Catherine's slide into her own personal hell, the 2007 timeline showed how it is possible to come back from such a truly horrendous trauma and ultimately not let an abuser win. Despite her intense struggle, Cathy shows a willingness and quiet inner strength to try to overcome her fears by breaking through her self imposed boundaries in an attempt to beat her OCD and even find love again and you can't help but root for her all the way, yet it is intriguing to see the way Lee's release from prison affects her and her quest for a normal life. Little niggles start to work their way in moving steadily towards full blown paranoia, and since the novel is written almost entirely from Cathy's perspective it is actually a little difficult to know if what is happening is real or in her imagination which adds very effectively to the suspense and tension of the book.
Into the Darkest Corner is ultimately an exploration into the terrifying world of domestic abuse and the psychological battle the victim faces during and after surviving such a horrific experience. This book certainly isn't for the faint hearted as the depictions of the mental and physical abuse did reach some quite intense levels and could be harrowing at times, but it contained an excellent mix of suspense, tension and drama alongside a compelling personal journey to recovery and was a quietly exciting and gripping read that left you on edge right until the end. A highly emotional book that can jump from heart breaking to inspirational in the blink of an eye, Into the Darkest Corner is an absolute must read for fans of thrillers and perhaps even psychology.
Summary: A startling look into a world of domestic abuse