Into The Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes

>> Sunday, March 25, 2012

TITLE: Into The Darkest Corner
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Haynes

PAGES: 403

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Thriller / Romantic Suspense

Catherine has been enjoying the single life for long enough to know a good catch when she sees one. Gorgeous, charismatic, spontaneous - Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell. But there is a darker side to Lee. His erratic, controlling and sometimes frightening behaviour means that Catherine is increasingly isolated. Driven into the darkest corner of her world, and trusting no one, she plans a meticulous escape. Four years later, struggling to overcome her demons, Catherine dares to believe she might be safe from harm. Until one phone call changes everything. This is an edgy and powerful first novel, utterly convincing in its portrayal of obsession, and a tour de force of suspense.
This was the book for my February book club. I wasn't particularly drawn to it from the description, and would never have picked it up on my own. And yet, I really enjoyed it. It pays to be dragged out of your comfort zone every now and then!

Catherine, the protagonist of Into The Darkest Corner has a severe case of OCD. So severe, in fact, that she can barely function. There are minute rules she has to comply with and complicated rituals she has to perform, all devised and enforced by herself, and if she's at all agitated, compliance with all of this can take literally hours.

Catherine is also clearly terrified of something, as evidenced by the fact that a good number of her rituals revolve around making sure she's safe. She checks and rechecks her front door and the rest of her flat (in a particular order and sequence, which she often screws up and has to begin again), for instance, returns home via different routes each time and always leaves her curtains in a particular position, to make sure they haven't been touched.

Chapters telling the story of Catherine's effort to regain control of life and treat her OCD (with the help of a very nice psychiatrist, Stuart, who moves into the upstairs flat), alternate with chapters from some 4 years earlier, which show the sequence of events that brought her to the point where we meet her. Those chapters start with her meeting the handsome Lee, and follow their relationship as it turns very disturbing.

I really liked the structure of the story. We have basically opposite directions of travel there. The present-day story starts with Catherine at a really low point in her life, and then gradually, as she works hard on it, things start getting better and better, although we know perfectly well there's going to be a big denouement there at the end. The story of four years earlier, on the other hand, starts with Cathy really happy with her life, and then things getting progressively worse as Lee starts to make her life hell in more and more horrible ways. There as well, we know there's going to be a big climax, and we know more or less what it's going to be. It works really well, with the bits where Catherine is happy or hopeful helping mitigate the bleakness of the other sections.

I also thought the portrayal of Catherine's OCD was absolutely amazing. It felt oppressive and scary and all-consuming, just as it must have felt for Catherine herself. It's not particularly easy to read, but I'm glad I did. I hesitate to reveal too much about myself here, but I've got some definite OCD tendencies, which are fine now but in the past have got too close to becoming a problem, and yes, what was portrayed here was, in essence, EXACTLY how it feels. The fears that cause the behaviours are exactly what Haynes showed, and so are the loops your mind falls into. Brilliantly done.

What was also very well done was that Haynes didn't have Catherine just curing herself through strength of will (or love. I've seen that sort of thing a bit too often in romance!). She needed help, she recognised it, and with support from Stuart, she showed immense strength in seeking it out and working very hard to get better. It made the hopeful ending that much more believable.

Something I thought might be an issue is the fact that a romance develops between Catherine and Stuart. The issue of him being a psychiatrist initiating a relationship with someone with big mental issues could have developed into a huge mess, but Haynes dealt with it very deftly. He's very professional in how he behaves. Catherine is in no way his patient. He encourages her to seek help and helps her navigate the practicalities of getting the right sort of help, but he doesn't diagnose her and very definitely doesn't treat her.

That said, Stuart is almost too good to be true. He's got unending reserves of patience and support for Catherine. Him being a psychiatrist himself explained why he would understand Catherine and not blame her, though. Plus, I felt so strongly that Catherine deserved a break in at least one part of her life, that the romance felt plenty satisfying to me.

Into The Darkest Corner is not marketed as romantic suspense, but that's kind of what it is, and would appeal to readers who like books on the psychological thriller end of the spectrum. It's also a page-turner, so make sure you clear up a few hours to read it if you do decide to pick it up!

MY GRADE: A strong B+.


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