* I received an arc copy in return for an honest review*
Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li
An astonishing and unique novel inspired by the author’s own story
Vivian is a cosmopolitan Taiwanese-American tourist who often escapes her busy life in London through adventure and travel.
Johnny is a 15-year-old Irish teenager, living a neglected life on the margins of society.
On a bright spring afternoon in West Belfast, their paths collide during a horrifying act of violence.
In the aftermath, each is forced to confront the chain of events that led to the attack.
Inspired by true events, this is a story of the dark chapters and chance encounters that can irrevocably determine the shape of our lives.
This novel is loosely based around, the authors real-life sexual assault. I found this incredibly brave and it offered the reader an insight into the rape survivor’s inner most private thoughts. This novel begins before the attack has taken place and ends 5 years after. It is written with a raw honesty and you genuinely feel the emotions, the protagonist Vivian goes through.
“They say events like this change your life forever”
This is the opening line to this novel and very much sums up the entire novel. We meet protagonist Vivian and we see, she is a young woman with a keen interest in travel and is slightly naive when it comes to the opposite sex. We also meet soon to be rapist, Johnny. Whom lives a life of poverty, in a divided community in Ireland. His life is marred by his father’s alcoholism, domestic violence and brother’s criminality. As much as I was disgusted and horrified by Johnny’s actions. I had the sense he was destined to a life behind bars.
Vivian has a delightful optimistic outlook on life. She is rather innocent in her views of people and their behaviour. I by no means mean this, as a negative towards her character. Women should feel safe to go hiking alone in the Irish countryside. I personally and unfortunately, grew up with childhood best friend, who would also go on to become a rape victim. I think this opened my eyes at a very young age, to the dangers that can lurk behind a man’s intentions. I also think this has influenced the way in which I raise my own teenage daughter. But people are individuals and we all form our views/opinions via the life experiences we are made aware of. This novel definitely provided much room for debate and discussion around key issues such as, rape culture and victim blaming.
We see cases like Vivian’s too often, played out over the media.
One thing I knew for certain, was that when Vivian and Johnny’s lives finally collided, it would be brutal. The attack that is described in the novel, holds nothing back. It is a savage and vicious attack, one that shocks you to your core! What is also shocking, is that this was committed by a boy of just 15 years of age. When the friendly charade performed by Johnny is fully unmasked, with the words “Do you like to have sex outdoors?”.
My eyes closed with sheer dread!
The novel also goes on to detail the aftermath of the assault from Vivian’s perspective. The physical examinations, injury/medical treatment and mental anguish. As Vivian struggles to accept that she is now a rape victim. She battles feelings of shame and disgust at herself. She struggles to find the words to break the news to friends and family.
There were moments where I put myself in her shoes and winced as I imagined the horror, of picking up that phone and calling my loved ones.
The trail eventually looms and the defendant chooses a not guilty plea, which will only serve to further torment the victim. Johnny appears to show no remorse and his narrative becomes much darker. As you become fully aware, of his broken and disillusioned outlook on life.
On the whole this novel is educational, emotional and possibly the most truthful depiction of rape as a central plot. I think the author has done a phenomenal job and I applaud her courageous approach to the subject. I am sure the writing process broke her heart several times, even if, in its entirety it may help her to heal.
I shall finish this review with a quote from Vivian’s thoughts, one that I felt summed up her experiences in Dark Chapter.
“There will be violation upon violation”
Winnie M Li
Winnie M Li is a writer and producer. A Harvard graduate, she has written for travel guide books, produced independent feature filmes, programmed for film festivals and developed ecotourism projects. After graduating with Distinction in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, she now writes across a range of media (including the Huffington Post), runs arts festivals, and is a PhD researcher at LSE. Winnie lives in London, yet is somewhat addicted to travel
*****Winnie M Li is an activist for survivors of rape and sexual assault. I have never been more proud to host such an incredible, courageous and beautiful human being on my blog. To be part of her blog tour, is a true honour!*****