Title: Travelling in the Dark
Writer: Emma Timpany
Publishing House: Fairlight Books
Date of Publication: July 11th 2018
Rating: 2 stars
Sarah and her young son leave London for Sarah’s home country, New Zealand. Sarah wants to reconnect with an old friend, to make sure that the past can no longer haunt her. Her country is in a dark situation, following the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch that caused the death of 185 people. Her memories of troubled, life-draining family relationships are an additional devastating weight on her shoulders. The story doesn’t sound like something I would choose to read but the beautiful cover, the title and the New Zealand setting convinced me to try it. Plus, I really wanted to read a book by Fairlight Moderns. Unfortunately, it was a major disappointment.
The chapters alternate between the present and the past and the setting comes alive and becomes rich through the unique New Zealand folklore. The dark colours are everywhere, creating a rather foreboding, claustrophobic atmosphere, despite the beauty of the mysterious landscape. Sarah’s thoughts are as haunting as the nature around her. The descriptions of the natural and urban environment are vivid and become the strongest part of Sarah’s story.
Unfortunately, these were the only positive things I’ve found in the book. The characters were a complete void. Sarah’s mother is a weak, bitter, shallow woman. The father is a harsh man. I confess I am getting tired of the tropes of the unloving father and the indifferent mother that seem to be so popular now. It is a cheap and unfair generalization. Same goes for the ‘’evil big sister’’. It is lazy and irritating. Another thing that bothered me was the recycling of the stereotype of the ‘’divorced woman.’’ So, we didn’t start well from the get-go. The writing, in general, was disappointing.
The syntax is strange, the interactions are almost lifeless. The boy uses language that no child at his age would use. How many boys would even think to utter the phrase ‘’no offense’’? Less than 2%. In addition, there were times when the boy behaved like a petulant, spoiled child with the mental ability of a three-year-old. So, consistency was non-existent. The dialogue was the major weakness, in my opinion. The parts of the past are bad, I’m afraid. The dialogue suffers from every cliche in Literature. Shame, really, because the descriptive passages of the present were beautiful. As a result, I went through those chapters rather quickly, my attention withering away swiftly. In a book that is under 150 pages long (in e-book edition), this is rather negative. I don’t have any patience for melodramatic writing that tries too hard to force the feelings of the reader. Also, the references to The Great Gatsby were ludicrous, there just for the sake of appearing fashionable.
These are a few examples of the strange, wooden syntax:
‘’This look okay to you?’’
‘’What a coincidence. That green light over there. Marking the end of a dock.’’
‘’I sense some hostility in your tone.’’
‘’A few hours. Five maybe.’’
I mean, why???
What really broke the deal for me was Patrick’s plotline that bored me to no end. I understand that Sarah has feelings but how many times do I need to read about her wanting to call Patrick, to see Patrick, to fall in bed with Patrick? I got it the first time, readers aren’t stupid.
So, despite the unusual, haunting setting and the occasional beautiful prose, the unoriginal premise, the boring, empty characters, the repetition, and the amateurish dialogue made me think that this book was a frightfully wasted opportunity. When all is said and done, this one was- to me, at least- one of the worst-written books I’ve read this year.
Many thanks to Fairlight Moderns and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.