Domestic violent situations are difficult to read about because it’s so enraging, so frustrating and makes you feel a way, as a reader, that you don’t want to feel! That is, vengeful. Elizabeth Haynes’ debut 2011 novel, Into the Darkest Corner, hit all of those notes for me. And interestingly enough, and inspiring to me, she wrote the book as part of National Novel Writing Month! That’s the annual writing event, which actually kicks off at midnight, where writers all over the world try to write a novel, or 50,000 words, in the month of November. This debut novel came of that experience. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo a few times, all unsuccessful attempts, but it was still inspiring to read a book that was created out of that experience.
So, the novel follows Catherine, a 20-something partygoer in England, who enjoys clubbing with her girlfriends and having a good time with men. She’s outgoing, bubbly, talkative, confident and extroverted. Along the way, she meets a guy named Lee, a good-looking, muscular guy who is intense, but it comes across doting at first.
That’s 2003-ish Catherine.
Fast-forward to 2007, and Catherine is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder because of what Lee did to her, although we’re still not quite privy to all the details. And Haynes goes into painstakingly realistic detail to show how much the OCD affects Catherine’s daily living. Her OCD is a manifestation of what Lee did to her: Paranoia that, despite him being in prison, he’s around every corner and therefore, she must check, double-check and check four more times, the doors, locks and windows of her apartment complex. She avoids going out in public. And in general, could be said to be surviving versus living.
The book is structured so that we jump back and forth between the unraveling of Catherine in 2003 and the aftermath of her undoing in 2007. That juxtaposition is so stark that it made for an interesting and quick read. Basically, I was waiting for a.) the crap to hit the fan with Lee and b.) where the OCD began to manifest, as in, where the two timelines merged.
It doesn’t take long for Lee to show his true colors and gaslight the heck out of Catherine. The first of these is something that seems like a red flag, but in the honeymoon phase, maybe you ignore it. Lee won’t tell Catherine what his job is, even when he shows up at her doorstep bloody one night. He then begins controlling what she wears, what she does, who she sees and how their sex life is. And he engenders the paranoia Catherine would later have about him because he’s always sneaking into her house and moving things around, just to let her know he can. It’s creepy and unsettling.
The worst part is, his gaslighting and his ability to screw with Catherine is aided by both being charismatic, so he can fool her friends and turn them against her (he makes her seem like a self-harmer and going crazy to her friends, which they believe for some reason!) and he’s a dang cop. So, in one harrowing scene when Catherine thinks she’s going to fly to New York and finally escape him (another instance where Lee orchestrated the whole thing just to mess with Catherine), he “arrests” her with the help of a security guard at the airport. Gah!
Lee gets off on the violence he inflicts on Catherine and it doesn’t take long for the crap to hit the fan in that way, as he’s abusive repeatedly to Catherine and then he’s also violently raping her. I felt Catherine’s claustrophobia (aka imprisonment, literally at one point) and hopelessness. Her friends don’t believe her. The cops won’t believe her. And he’s a cop himself. Plus, he seems to be damn-near omnipresent it feels like. How is she supposed to escape him?
Along the way in 2007, Catherine meets Stuart, her roommate upstairs and a psychologist, who begins helping her to deal with her past and her present OCD and PTSD conditions. I honestly felt like Stuart was pushy and controlling in a similar vein to Lee, I have to say. I did not like him and I expected him to also show his true colors by the end of the book. But he never does and he marries Catherine. So, I think Haynes was going for Stuart being a representation of a good guy, but I didn’t buy it. In fact, I would have preferred Catherine’s upstairs roommate be another woman and they find empowerment together. Or Catherine finds empowerment by herself. Whatever the case. Not another man that she trusts too soon.
Overall though, I thought the book did an exceedingly good job of showing what it’s like to be afflicted with OCD and PTSD and the steps to overcoming those issues, and demonstrating that it’s not so easy to “just leave” once you’re in a domestic violence situation. For one, it could literally get you killed. But two, by the time the red flags are truly popping up, you feel that sense of hopelessness that there is no way to get out, as Catherine did. She got to the point where death seemed like a better alternative than the daily “living” she was experiencing. Moreover, that domestic violence can happen to anyone. Nobody sets out to be a victim.
Catherine is not to blame for what happened to her or continued to happen to her; Lee is and it could have happened to anyone that Lee happened to fixate on.
The hard thing about books like this is, we get treated to quite literally hundreds of pages of Lee being a monster, treating Catherine horribly with verbal, emotional and physical abuse, as well as violent rape and the threat of death, and there’s just no way that an ending can give him the proper comeuppance, which goes back to my point at the beginning that this sort of book makes me feel more vengeful than I would like!
I would say, I think I would have been satisfied if at least Stuart — if you’re going to use him as a character, as I said, I would have gone with another woman or stuck to the female police detective, Sam — or Sam, or both, got some offense in on Lee. Instead, Stuart is a non-factor and Sam shows up after Catherine has already immobilized him with some sort of fire gizmo.
And still, technically, Lee gets the last laugh directing Catherine and Lee (from prison) to a woman he killed prior to Catherine and taunting Catherine with his favorite red dress of hers. I guess you could say, at least Catherine is better now with her OCD and PTSD, but I don’t like Lee getting that last laugh. Screw him!
Anyhow, this is quite an impressive novel for a debut and one created out of NaNoWriMo! I have another Haynes novel I picked up from the library I’m going to read after this, but I would highly recommend you all to read this one, too!