Thursday, 23 July 2020

Book #59

After the Silence by Louise O'Neill

Nessa Crowley's murderer has been protected by silence for ten years. Until a team of documentary makers decide to find out the truth.

On the day of Henry and Keelin Kinsella's wild party at their big house a violent storm engulfed the island of Inisrun, cutting it off from the mainland. When morning broke Nessa Crowley's lifeless body lay in the garden, her last breath silenced by the music and the thunder.
The killer couldn't have escaped Inisrun, but on-one was charged with the murder. The mystery that surrounded the death of Nessa remained hidden. But the islanders knew who to blame for the crime that changed them forever.

After the Silence is an interesting locked room mystery, where the locked room is much larger than usual - an island which, due to a ferocious storm, is impossible to reach or leave on the night of the murder. After ten years, an eager young documentary crew arrive to gather information, and interview the islanders on the murder.

I enjoyed the varying narrative style here, flicking from third person, to first-person plural, to interview style, whilst also narrating events as they happened ten years ago, then returning to the present. It created huge engagement for me, whilst constantly dribbling small drops of information to be pieced together, and creating a delicious amount of tension.

As far as the mystery itself goes, it’s not too difficult to point the finger at the culprit pretty early on, or at least whittle it down to just a few. But this isn’t really a murder mystery novel, it’s much much more hideous.

What’s far more important here, and arguably much better than the mystery, is O’Neill’s exploration of domestic abuse and its characteristics. Although the term itself implies physical hurt, we’re reminded by this story that abuse can take many forms, often psychological forms which leave no evidence on skin. It’s a terrifying ordeal for victims, who begin to question their own minds and behaviour, often reaching the conclusion that they themselves are to blame.

O’Neill also comments on misogyny, and how quietly it can sneak its way into becoming a normal reaction from any gender. Why didn’t she just leave her abuser? Why did she let that young woman into her home? Why has she aged so terribly, look at the Botox, whilst her husband has only become distinguished with age? O’Neill’s skill in showing us the subtle ways these things can manifest is expertly done, and truly, truly terrifying.

It’s twisty, it’s turny, it’s a deep character study with a thrill to its style. O’Neill presents an important work, and also shows us the truth is sickening, but holding it inside of you is a far worse ordeal.