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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.

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