The novel is at its strongest when zoning in on the fraught relationship between mother and daughter
when Healey employs her gift for observational comedy and gives Jen’s wit free reign. Jen’s take on her younger hipster colleagues is perfect: “She suspected they didn’t have mothers but had been constructed by a team of designers just like themselves.”
Less successful are the novel’s ending and its prominent and voluminous references to art, Christian imagery, folk legend and Greek myth. Background allusions to the myth of Demeter, whose daughter Persephone was abducted to the underworld, would have sufficed, but the other references often feel superimposed and unnecessary, diluting the impact of character and action. Similarly, Jen can seem very like a writer, reaching (sometimes straining) for analogy and trying to impose meaning on random events.
The intensity of Healey’s focus on Jen and Lana leaves some of the other characters behind; Jen’s husband’s is preternaturally stoic and calm. But though there are flaws, Whistle in the Dark is a sobering journey into the underworld of the human psyche, highlighting that what we do to ourselves can be worse than what we do to each other.