‘Whistle in the Dark’ was really a beautiful surprise. The premise is interesting from the get-go - Jen is a woman dealing with the lingering threat of her fifteen-year-old daughter Lana’s disappearance. In the first few sentences, we learn that Lana has been found alive after four days missing alone in the Lake District. She can’t (or won’t) tell anyone what happened or where she was, leaving her confused family to consider the worst.
It isn’t the plot that makes this novel special. It lacks much action at all, in fact - but this is a deliberate attempt to direct us alongside Jernigan as he makes a series of bad or passive decisions to draw out the repetitive, unfulfilling life that he admits he would much rather not be living. Instead of focusing on drama, Gates spends the majority of the book focusing on the intricacies of his character, showing redemptive compassion for his introspective, self-pitying protagonist, as he tries to rationalize his own terrible behavior.
The closest description I can give to the feeling that this novel gave me was the joyful uncertainty of IBS (and I'm sure that Reid will be psyched to know that I've made that comparison). But hear me out. You know something's wrong. You don't know what's causing it, you don't know how it's going to manifest itself - only that it will, and soon. You ain't gonna have any control, and you can't stop it. You feel a bit sick. This novel feels like a slow descent into that same feeling as it begins to spin uncontrollably away from you.
I absolutely loved the style and wittiness of this book and its myriad of conversations regarding human nature, and a lot of dialogue I found excellent and fun. There are definitely issues regarding the portrayal of women, and LGBTQ+ issues, but I have scoured pre-existing reviews of this book and it appears that no-one else has felt quite as strongly as I have about it.
“The DNA sample that you have provided does not match any of our records. Please return another sample to us.” He paused and read it again. Without saying anything, he flipped it over and skimmed the other side. It listed the countries: 0%, 0%, 0%. Another small line at the bottom: “Your DNA sample has not returned any matches.”
Last weekend, I spent 5 hours trudging through a barren wasteland with a father “the man” and his son “the boy”, watching them starve, make mistakes, fight and protect each other - and the experience damn near killed me. Making us ask the question: What is more important to us - our lives, or our humanity?
Through the knees of his suit trousers, woollen and scratchy, the child could feel the wet soil seeping. He had found a snail to watch.
Jim Sams is our protagonist, a prime minister-cum-cockroach who has lived the world as a hated-being, a tiny spot on the pavement of Britain and has now woken up wearing the skin suit of the most powerful man in the country. The premise is ridiculous, but then again, so is the politics and it mirrors this quite perfectly.
On the first page, we learn that ‘Tequila Leila’ (as she’s known to her friends) is not at home, cuddled up in bed and warm, but instead she lies dead in a metal rubbish bin on the outskirts of Istanbul - a city which lives and breathes its own personality as loudly as the characters that live within it. We feel immediate devastation that this woman, a person who Elif describes with intimate detail, has met her end here. As Leila herself says: “She could not believe that her mortal existence was over and done with [...] Last night she had left her fingerprints on a whisky glass …”
He kissed me with the kind of urgency you only really see in the movies. It was only now that I started to detect the slightest flavour of something charred and earthy in his tongue. He was definitely a smoker.