Early September and most of
is enjoying the pleasures
of a warm, late summer. Children play in backyards, kids travel to
school, adults make their way to work – all is normal, until suddenly a series
of massive earthquakes changes the face of the planet, and mankind,
irrevocably. The physical devastation would be apocalyptic enough with
the west coast of America
devoured by the earth and the sea causing horrific tsunamis the world over, but
a darker force has been unleashed. Suddenly, people are giving way to a
previously unseen anger, a deep seated rage and violence that turns them on
their fellow men. Amidst this panic are small groups of survivors, many on
their own, some in straggling groups. Among them, scattered across America America and are Mason, Aries, Clementine
and Michael all caught in a desperate fight against the end of civilisation as
we know it. Canada
It’s rare to see a book split into multiple narratives, but Jeyn Roberts has bravely given it a shot – telling the story of her catastrophe through the eyes of not only the four teenagers but also a mysterious fourth, referred to only as Nothing. Nothing seems to hold the darker narrative track – starting and finishing the novel and showing up for the odd, disturbing interlude every now and then. Nothing seems to have a deeper knowledge of the affliction currently inhabiting so many people and waxes philosophically (and often terrifyingly) about its root cause. Some of these passages are more successful than others and all are oddly disjointed, adding a genuine air of unease to proceedings.
The other protagonists are easier to get a handle on. Aries (yes, that really is her name and no, there doesn’t seem to be a reason for it – not that any would be excusable, really) is probably the strongest of the bunch, leading her rag tag crew of survivors unwillingly yet with some success. Clementine is tough in a different way, spending much of the story alone, driven by her desire to find her brother who may or may not be still alive/normal. Michael at first seems like a natural leader but soon finds himself conflicted due to his own survival instinct and Mason struggles with his losses and the anger they engender within him. Lurking in the background is Daniel, charismatic, mysterious and a little bit frightening with an absolute conviction that he is better travelling alone.
Surrounding these five are a host of characters who slip in and out of the individual narratives, some destined to stay, some clearly only passing through. In a world where the motto is very much kill or be killed, none of the characters are without bloody hands yet it is how each handle this new reality that is so interesting. While they all, without exception, witness and undertake acts of sometimes extreme violence, their core personalities are so well constructed that they never seem unlikable – in fact, it is the cowardice of the snivelling Colin that is likely to cause more distaste.
The story line of Dark Inside is straight-forward – a series of road-trip survival stories set against an unimaginably broken world. The characters move like dots on a map, staggering from terrifying vignette to terrifying vignette. Underlying this, Jeyn Roberts starts to riff on the nature of her apocalypse, and there are suggestions that perhaps humanity has become its own worse enemy with those most disenfranchised/depressed by society now driven to ultimately destroy it. Certainly current, I suspect that this idea will work better for some readers than for others, but Robert’s writing is so compelling that it matters little whether readers choose to run with the possible existentialism running underneath her gripping narrative. One thing is certain, no one could be anything by chilled by her vision of monstrous humanity. The demons of her story are not zombies but cold, calculating and absolutely frightening versions of every day people.
As an addition to the post-apocalyptic canon, Dark Inside is very successful and as a debut writer, Jeyn Roberts is certainly someone to keep an eye on. While the book actually stands alone fairly successfully, the ending is rather open ended and I suspect that many readers will be delighted that, inevitably (because isn’t everything part of a series these days), there is a sequel in the works. Certainly it will be fascinating to find out what happens to Aries et al (maybe we’ll even discover why on earth she has such an odd moniker) in the frightening world that Jeyn Roberts has created.