Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
Into the light comes a dramatic and very hard drama
on 17 June 2013
Author Nick Lake tells the story of a young man trapped in darkness not knowing where he is and uncertain of what is happening around him and he invites us into his tale, a story of gang life, of sibling separation and a dynamic overview of political war whilst the foundation of Haiti is being lain down by Toussaint L'Overture, a rebel forming a slavery rebellion.
What is most striking about this novel is the ideas and attitude behind it doesn't necessarily mean it is a young person's novel. This is grown up and more appropriate for an older audience as it delves into the world of Haiti and travelling back and forth in time to the formation and destructive revolution of key historical figures and the central teenage boy, trapped in darkness recapping to the reader how he arrived in a desolate hospital.
And the structure to this award winning novel is key to the development of the settings and lifestyle of central character Shorty, a young man who was separated from his sister, who had a difficult upbringing and becoming involved in gang life. Balancing his story alongside the slow build up of Haiti's history and Toussaint L'Overture, a rebel who fought for slave freedom brings along a remarkable novel of deep political history with heavy family drama, death and national angst.
As a teenage/young adult novel I was struck by the violent broadness of Nick Lake's story, it is staggeringly brutal and unafraid to skirt around drug intakes and deals, political death threats and bloody imagery. It is quite startling also to read a swear word practically on every page. So if you're planning on using this to teach or read with your teenage son or daughter, be wary this is a heavy drama.
However the central character is well established as a teenager with his gangster attitude, his friends and often Nick Lake inserts references to modern rappers which some may find funny and others might find ridiculous. As if the use of slang, race and imagery generate would be classed as stereotypical.
The stand out feature to this 2012 novel is Shorty's moving reflection towards his family. With regards to his lost sister Nick Lake writes in a beautiful way that only a sibling could really appreciate. He generates a feeling of a connection with writing from the point of view of Shorty and scripting some heart rendering statements about his sister's outlook on life, how she was, how she cared, what she looked like and now, what little he can remember. It may generate a tear or two.
If your history knowledge is as small as mine then fear not as when this book gets into its groove there is some strong scene setting from Nick Lake and detailed history to entice and intrigue. The problem with this is that it can feel long winded and by being dragged into a deep meaningful history lesson, `In Darkness' can lose some of the intensity that the characters can brilliantly generate. And perhaps that's a key when this book gets going.
It's intense and violent and mentally strong and you feel, an important novel given the history of Haiti. The structure of the book works well, going from the present to the past and back allows the author to tell two stories at once and this works having a break in between the heavy and the light side of life. But as a result the flow of the story is corrupted and it is challenging to recapture that feeling of being right there in the heart of war to being in the hospital.
In Darkness therefore is quite a unique book to place on a shelf. It feels important, and it is, and at the same time despite the wonderful drama and detailed historical overview, it is quite a challenging read.