AFTER THE DARKNESS HONEY BROWN, VIKING, $29.95
Honey Brown’s first psychological thriller, Red Queen, won an Aurealis Award, her second, The Good Daughter, was shortlisted for the 2011 Barbara Jefferis Award and longlisted for the Miles Franklin, but After the Darkness seems to me unlikely to garner similar accolades, in spite of the fact that it explores some interesting and suspenseful human responses to unendurable shock, fear and humiliation.
Even though it opens with relaxed end-of-holiday sex, the novel gets off to an extraordinarily slow and banal start, some of it so oddly banal that it must be a lame attempt at tongue-in-cheek: how on earth does the unexceptional surname Harrison add “a little more pizzazz” to the forename Bruce? And why are both partners perplexed that some of the man’s friends call him Harry? There are reasons for a lengthy and technical discussion about a couple in the news who have leapt from a burning building – this is, in effect, what Bruce and his wife Trudy are about to do – and for the culmination of that discussion to be an argument over whether there are worse outcomes than death, but the events that will give meaning to these exchanges may well be further into the novel than the impatient reader will ever reach.
The cataclysm that overtakes the Harrisons arrives early – it is the after-effects of the trauma that the novel is interested in – but even through the bizarre horror of what happens in the isolated art gallery on the edge of the Great Ocean Road cliffs the reader is likely to be trying to suppress inconvenient questions about the mechanics of it all, to visualise, for example, exactly how a man’s wrists might be tied by leather straps to the top of a long steel cabinet with sliding doors, although the unsettling orientation of the gallery and menace of the glass sculptures are palpable enough. Momentum gathers with a return to normal life – to home and children, to the decision on whether to involve the police in what has occurred – and with the suspicions that soon start to poison that life, leading eventually to another equally unexpected act of terrible and equivocal violence.
The characters are not explored at any great depth but are full enough to be convincing. The three teenage children in particular are individual and engaging: their relationships with their parents and their responses to the changes chance has made in their comfortable lives are strengths of the novel. Another is the portrayal of the union between the Harrisons, sorely tried not only by the terror and humiliation suffered but also by the direction in which Trudy’s attempts to unmask the perpetrator of their ordeal take her, yet strengthened by both complicity and concern for one another.
Most insightful and moving in its desolate echo of the book’s opening is the depiction half way through of the devastating effect the visceral recollection of trauma has on the couple’s love-making.