Book Review – What They Do in the Dark

Book review - What they do in the darkWhat They Do in the Dark, Amanda Coe (Virago, 2012)

I am officially a GTA5 widow this week so here’s a review of a book I’ve just finished.

I picked up this book on a whim while bulk buying Dexter books for the bf from The Works (3 for £5, if you have a Works near you, deffo go in). I am very much a judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover person and I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of an innocent looking image and a truly sinister title.

What They do in the Dark follows three young girls from very different lives whose paths intercept. Lallie is a child star, famed for her Saturday night light entertainment programme showcasing her skill for celebrity impersonations. Her career is at a crucial turning point, filming a serious drama feature where she plays a young girl preyed on by a paedophile. The filming takes place in the hometown of the other two main characters: Gemma, Lallie’s biggest fan, a child from a middle-class background whose parents are going through a divorce; and Pauline, the school bully who is suffering from serious parental neglect.

Gemma is the key link in the chain. Her comfortable life is turned upside down when her mother leaves her father and moves them into her new boyfriend’s home. A boyfriend who has an unhealthy interest in Gemma. She begins to form an uncomfortable friendship with Pauline, an act of rebellion against her mother who firmly does not approve of Pauline or any of her family. Unused to positive attention, Pauline latches onto Gemma, eager to impress her. When Lallie’s film auditions girls to appear as extras both girls jump at the chance, Gemma in hopes of meeting her idol, and Pauline in the hopes of impressing Gemma. Disappointment, frustration, fear, anger, guilt are the toxic ingredients that bubble all summer leading to an explosive outpouring of rage that impacts on the lives of all three girls.

This 1970s set novel does an immersive turn in nostalgia minus the rose-tinted view. The sweet shops, comics and freedoms that children were afforded are fondly remembered without glossing over the dangers, suspicions and turned backs.

The story between Gemma and Pauline is the key strength to this book. Both of their voices are heard in different chapters and it feels authentic to each child. However, the Lallie storyline really brings the book down. Instead of being narrated by Lallie herself, we hear from various people around her. Vera, the aging starlet, turned one-line wonder actress; Quinten, the American producer talent scout; Frank, her agent. These characters are so superfluous, I can’t even remember what Frank’s point of view was. Quinten’s chapters were so irritating I was annoyed whenever I reached one. They focused more on her crush than on Lallie. Vera was the most interesting voice. I suppose that the author was trying to give us some sort of glimpse into Lallie’s possible future, but I wanted to her from the girl herself, not conjections from a random, albeit a wise one. To me, it didn’t make sense that Gemma and Pauline narrated their own stories while Lallie didn’t. Despite their being some interesting links between the three girls, they were not fully developed due to this narrative choice and the chapters about Lallie felt like an unwelcome distraction from the key and genuinely quite gripping story of Gemma and Pauline.

I started off really enjoying this book but in the end felt very disappointed in it. The author had a great story, but it sadly lacked in delivery.

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