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Book Review: In Darkness by Nick Lake

in darkness nick lake Book Review: In Darkness by Nick Lake

Occasionally I come across a book thats not so much a story as it is an exploration of place and setting. Nick Lakes In Darkness, a diachronic account of Haiti taking place over the tumultuous post-earthquake present and its revolutionary past. Lake draws a number of parallels between the two, and theres an omnipresent sense of fervour and chaos throughout.

We see the Haiti of the past through the eyes of the revolutionary Touissaint LOuverture as he leads a slave uprising, but also through the eyes of Shorty, a gang-member teen who lies pinned beneath the debris of a hospital in the aftermath of the 2012 Haiti earthquake. The two are connected through voodoo, with the spirit of the former re-emerging in the latter, whose buried, darkened state is reminiscent of that needed to create a zombiea zombie, of course, is reborn from the darkness.

It seems that amidst this maelstrom of death and destruction that Lake is hinting that Haiti can experience a phoenix-like rebirth, but at the same time theres something oddly niggling about this: zombies apparently are aware that they are dead, and that they are essentially agentless spectators whose contribution is merely that of memory. Thus, theres the notion of the importance of remembering the past, as well as how inextricably its linked with the present, but theres also the depressing idea that awareness of the past is in no way enough to bring change to the future.

And this concept becomes increasingly tragic as the book progresses and we see Lakes Haiti (as someone with very little knowledge of Haiti personally Im going to work on the assumption that this Haiti is a construct rather than one thats culturally or historically accurate) as a place thats rife with social and political clashes, resource and infrastructure deficiencies and of course the ongoing threat of natural disastersHaiti has been a regular casualty of earthquakes, severe storms and hurricanes.

We watch as LOuverture and his men embark in a bloody war and as they find themselves chess pieces in a game played by far-off colonial masters, and similarly as the modern day Site becomes a site of gang warfare and struggles with UN intervention. The illiteracy, violence and food scarcity of LOuvertures time echo in that of Shortys, where education is the stuff of the haves, where mud cakes are eaten for sustenance, and where death, illness and a disregard for human life is the norm. Both LOuvertures Haiti and Shortys Site are isolated and blocked off, and theres an eerie sense that onlookers are waiting for those within to slowly wipe themselves out. Shortys slow, death in a crippled hospital also speaks volumes, and the emphasis on the solitary nature of the Haitian individualwhether as a safety mechanism or the result of other circumstancesdoes too. There is so much loss and death in this book, so much so that its almost emotionless. Indeed, theres really only one scene where a death is met with an utter emotional breakdown, and this occurs in LOuvertures time.

Lake has created something darkly menacing and eerily penetrating here, and his leveraging of the past to highlight the ongoing woes of the present is done in a novel and contextually relevant way, but at the same time I cant help but feel that theres a neatness to it that may speak of artistic liberties and the glossing over of subtleties in order to make a more sweeping point. This approach also results in an unrelenting bleakness and ferocity, and whether for this reason or the distance that Lakes Creole-heavy gang speak brings with it I found it hard to truly engage with the novel and its characters, and though LOuvertures sections are eminently worthy, the book suffers from a problem common with split narratives: the reader rushes through the POV scenes of one character to get back to those of the other, more interesting one.

Rating: star Book Review: In Darkness by Nick Lakestar Book Review: In Darkness by Nick Lakestar Book Review: In Darkness by Nick Lakeblankstar Book Review: In Darkness by Nick Lakeblankstar Book Review: In Darkness by Nick Lake) (good)

With thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for the review copy

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing In Darkness'from

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Other books by Nick Lake:

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  1. I have this on my reading schedule this week, I skimmed your review and I am looking forward to reading it.
    Shelleyrae recently posted..Giveaway & Review: Old Loves Die Hard by Lauren Carr

  2. Stephanie /

    I hope you enjoy it, Shelleyrae! Im a little sad I didnt quite connect with this one in the way I wanted to. Its very goodbeautifully written and very well donebut for some reason it just didnt quite click with me.

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