I have to say, I wasn’t enamoured with ‘In Darkness’ for the first few chapters. In fact, I was nearly at the point of giving up, and it was only initially an upcoming Carnegie discussion event that prompted me on. Then, it got good. Really good.
When discussing my initial dislike of the book, someone said “that’s because it’s not really linked to anything else’. Sort of true – it’s an introduction, and acts as such, moving us away from the action of the story and into an orientation of our protagonist, his lifestyle and his current situation. What is the crux of this boy’s story is, perhaps, a little removed from the final embodiment of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the pseudonymous Shorty, and the hope and myth that surrounds the transfiguration of a young boy’s life to the promise of a better tomorrow.
What eventually gripped me about this book was the sheer starkness of it. We’re told Shorty’s dad is dead early on, but the description doesn’t shy away from the horror of it. LIkewise, we are in the same denial about Marguerite as Shorty; I didn’t believe the truth until it was physically told, because his naive, childlike and enduring hope sustains you throughout the novel. Even characters who might have come across as benevolent such as Dread Wilme and Biggie are shown ‘in darkness’; they are never absolved, and never removed from their own heinous leadership. They attempt good but are still shadowed by their destruction and senseless violence.
I think what really turned this book and, in my opinion, saved it from being permanently left on the darkness of the library shelf, was the dual narrative. Toussaint’s story gave a new frame, a new purpose to Shorty’s narrative, turning him from a ruthless teenager to a humbled human being, showing that violence sometimes cannot be avoided in the want of great change. Toussaint was a believable character as well (ignoring the voudou!); his power never overwhelmed him, but equally he was not a saint or martyr, he just did what was necessary in the name of survival and freedom. It made Shorty’s actions, if not understandable, then feasible for the horrors he faced.
Nick Lake has delved into the unknown darkness and pulled out a story of survival and endurance, illustrating that right and wrong are never polarised, and the world is far more complicated than good and evil, and that we can only pray to make the right decisions in order to move towards light and away from the dark.