When the Fear that Breaks... is the Fear that Saves
Everyone is afraid--really, truly afraid--of something.
Most of us are able to handle the fear, and as long as we don’t dwell on whatever it is that scares the pants off us, we’re okay. For some people, though, the whole “not dwelling on it” thing is impossible, and it’s that terror which defines their lives.
Of course, if the worst actually were to happen, the above would all be moot.. since being forced to face one’s fears is very different from merely thinking (or not thinking) about them. One woman discovers just how different in Elizabeth Haynes‘ brilliant psychological thriller, In the Darkest Corner.
A carefree party girl who lives to go out on the town (and stay there till the wee hours of the morning, whenever possible) with her girlfriends, twenty-something Catherine Bailey wasn’t expecting to meet someone like Lee Brightman. Movie-star handsome, charming, and funny--and rocking some major bad-boy sex appeal--he’s like a fantasy come true. Best of all, he’s obviously really into her, and almost before she knows it, they’re a couple.
It doesn’t take long for Catherine to realize there’s trouble in paradise, though. Lee has a lot of secrets (including what he does for a living, oddly), some serious control issues, a jealous streak run rampant, and--most troubling of all--a proclivity for violence... which, increasingly, is directed toward her.
When she looks to her friends for help getting away from him, she’s shocked to discover that not one of them believes her; clearly, he has somehow gotten to them first. Now, the friends who at one time had speculated about his air of mystery, are looking at her with suspicion, and accusing her of being cruel and unfaithful by wanting to break his heart.
With no one left to turn to, Catherine devises a desperate escape plan on her own... and succeeds, after a fashion (although not without grievous psychological and physical damage to herself). She even manages to get the police--and then a court--to sort-of believe her story, and a miserable year later, Lee winds up in prison, while Catherine... well, she finds herself in an awful mental and emotional state, just trying to survive.
Flash forward four years. Cathy, as she’s now known, has moved to the city. She has a good job, a nice flat... and a debilitating case of OCD, which causes her to spend hours each day, repeatedly checking all the door locks and window latches, over and over again (and thinking about doing so, the rest of the time). Afraid to make friends, her existence is a solitary, depressing one; it’s not much of a triumph over her abuser, this life she’s managed to notch out for herself.
She feels the first glimmers of hope that maybe life can one day be kind-of okay--perhaps even normal--again, after meeting the man who’s just moved into the flat above hers--Stuart Richardson, a nice guy who actually seems to understand her condition, instead of thinking she’s some kind of freak. She even agrees to see a specialist for treatment, something she’s never been willing to do before .
That’s when she gets the phone call... the one alerting her to the news that Lee has just been released from prison... and Cathy's quasi-safe little world immediately starts crumbling all around her again.
Does she have it in her, to not only protect herself, but to fight back? If there’s one thing she knows in her heart, it’s that she's all out of choices.
It’s impossible to ever know exactly what another person is going through. At best, we can really only guess, using some combination of observation, listening, and applying whatever personal experiences might be semi-relevant. If you’re the one dealing with the Really Awful Situation, there are certain behaviors which other people would expect (and thus, find “acceptable”)... and then there’s something like the full-blown case of OCD, depicted here, which falls way outside of what most of us would consider the norm.
In the Darkest Corner paints a fascinating (not to mention, disturbing) portrait of someone taken to her breaking point--and then beyond--and does so in an intensely-compelling way. Cathy’s first-person narrative gives the story its gut-wrenching poignance and palpable immediacy; she tells things as she lives them. (Had it been written from the distance of a third-person perspective, the same urgency wouldn’t have been possible.)
Haynes understands just how to draw her readers in... and how to keep us there, breathless with nervous tension, fraught with worry, and straining to reach the last page. In the Darkest Corner is a fantastic psychological thriller... but if you’re not big on labeling things, just call it a really great read. I know this one’s gonna stick with me for quite awhile.
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: All the Mousies