Into That Darkness, by Steven Price. Pub 2011
This is the second book I’ve read by Steven Price, and his debut novel (thank goodness for that, or it wouldn’t fit into any category this year…).
Into That Darkness is set in Victoria, BC, and tells of the days on and immediately following a series of massive earthquakes along the West Coast. Both Vancouver and Seattle are also significantly affected (as is most of Vancouver Island), but the focus on Victoria allows the focus on a narrower geography and one that is more familiar to the author. We are introduced to the main characters on the morning of the earthquake. Arthur is an older man (he’s referred to as the old man, but at just 68, I don’t consider him “old”, just older) who heads out from home one morning for his usual stroll to the shops. He gets a coffee from Anna, who has her son Mason with her for the day. Arthur is at the tobacconists when the big tremor strikes. The remainder of the story is about Arthur, Anna, and Mason finding their way through and around and over the rubble, and the changed society that springs up within it.
Not knowing Victoria that well (but well enough to know the main landmarks), it was difficult to follow sometimes where the action was taking place – how close together or not things were. Regardless, the descriptions of the ruined city, especially the details around the wreck of the hospital and the refugees moving towards it, were sufficiently detailed to make the devastation clear and graphic. The characters were interesting but a bit disjointed, with many irrelevant and unenlightening details shared but other serious gaps left unaddressed. There were a few other issues I had with the novel:
- The dialogue was both rambling and incomplete. There is a long (long) passage of Arthur telling Anna a fable about a scientist and a creationist that is a complete non sequitur and just ends with no explanation.
- There are extra characters with complex backstories that just come and go for no reason (the engineer, the gardener, the barber).
- As with By Gaslight, the author latches on to a few interesting descriptive words that then he can’t stop using, sometimes on the same page. Warple (meaning wavy glass that distorts images), wimple (which he uses as an adjective to describe the slightly wavy surface of water or something that is wrinkled), and scurl (a made-up word that seems to mean wave or whorls of dust or cloud blown by the wind). These can be very distracting, but I now know that Price is foremost a poet, and so it make sense that his lyrical language permits imaginative imagery.
Overall, the novel was good for its stark and grim setting, which is very well done, but the characters are strangely thin and unsympathetic, some of the elements of the societal changes they experience (organized and violent vigilantes cordoning off neighbourhoods within 12 hours, packs of now-wild dogs hunting people within 2 days) seem highly fantastic and unrealistic, and many of the actions and choices that the characters make are reminiscent of bad tv shows (“it’s getting dark out there, we should split up now”).
Fate: I might hang on to this one, if only to complete my collection of Steven Price books (I will then have all three of his novels). But more likely, it will be charity shop bound as I’m definitely not going to read this one again.
6 – an author’s debut novel.