“In my experience, the truly evil are few and good people, with the very best intentions, often make very bad decisions and get in way over their hea“In my experience, the truly evil are few and good people, with the very best intentions, often make very bad decisions and get in way over their heads before they know it. People drown, quietly before our eyes, all the time.” - (Ilsa J Bick in the Acknowledgements of Drowning Instinct)
I can never resist a compelling, unreliable narrator.
There are few literary techniques I find more engaging than a strong, distinct voice – especially one I’m not sure I can trust. And in sixteen-year-old Jenna Lord, Ilsa J Bick has created a razor sharp voice in a story that is anything but clear-cut.
Drowning Instinct puts the reader in the uncomfortable position of listening in on Jenna’s (very) unsettling story, as she dictates it onto a digital recorder for the detective waiting outside the door. She is, in her own words: ”..lucky, a liar, a good girl, a princess, a thief – and a killer.” And what she has to say is not easy to hear.
As Bick herself says, this is a difficult, risky book. It does not present predators and victims in a black and white fashion. There is a great deal of ambiguity and complex content – including, but not limited to: self-harm, alcoholism, sexual and physical abuse, grief, PTSD, suicide and (view spoiler)[ a relationship between a teacher and student. (hide spoiler)] However, what prevents this book from descending into the realm of manipulative tragedy porn is that it does not ask the reader to agree with the choices the characters make. But it does demand that the reader think about them, question them, examine the reasoning and motivations of these damaged people.
From the opening, Drowning Instinct is an intense novel. While the pieces of the story fall into place gradually, with Jenna alternately withholding and revealing information, the pacing never feels slow. Rather, the slightly ominous tone, the sensation that the plot is inexorably drawing towards a shocking conclusion, and the format in which Jenna relates events, keeps the story gripping.
Jenna is an intriguing narrator: intelligent, acerbic, obviously in pain. Her voice is extremely well-executed, balancing her tendency to keep the detective (and thus the reader) at arm’s length, with her raw vulnerability. She is not entirely a sympathetic character – and yet throughout the book all I wanted was for to be able to heal, to find relief. As the layers to her story are revealed, Jenna becomes clearer as a character and her actions are given greater context, which complicates the issue of judging her choices. In this respect, Bick has crafted not only a realistic, complex character – but also developed an interesting dynamic between Jenna and the reader.
There are some plot elements that I felt weakened the believability of the story overall – the biggest example being the dramatic changes in attitude of Jenna’s parents. The abrupt turn-arounds in behaviour are almost whip-lash inducing, and the justification provided feels flimsy. That said, I think it’s worth considering that these parts of the story reflect Jenna as a narrator, and that we are hearing what Jenna herself refers to as her “version” of the truth. Early in the novel, Jenna muses on what it means to tell to the truth – and her inability to provide a black and white story, given the circumstances in which hers unfolds.
This is not a perfect novel, nor is it an easy one. Bick takes a gamble in choosing to tell this particular story in such a conflicted, ambiguous manner. Yet, while Jenna reaches a conclusion at the end of the book – readers are left to form their own. And I believe that rather than trying to convince readers of a particular stance, this book is instead simply urging them to think. To hear a different perspective. But most of all, to understand what compels such broken people to go to such extreme measures to mitigate their pain – whether we support or condemn their actions. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The Raging Quiet is without doubt a Rey-The-Teen-Years book. Which is not to say it is not a Rey-Now book, (it is), but this is the sort of novel I woThe Raging Quiet is without doubt a Rey-The-Teen-Years book. Which is not to say it is not a Rey-Now book, (it is), but this is the sort of novel I would have adored without reservation in high school. As a teenager that read almost exclusively classics and historical literature of any kind, and possibly had somewhat overly romantic ideas about life, I would have been completely enamoured with Jordan’s sweeping story of love triumphing over evil.
The deliberate ambiguity of the setting and time period in which The Raging Quiet takes place allows the story to straddle a line between historical fiction and fantasy, and frees it from some of the rigidity a straight historical fiction novel would demand. Jordan has created a world that borrows heavily from our own past and is told in a traditional style, yet allows the plot to unfold in a manner that resonates with its contemporary audience.
While The Raging Quiet could be classified as a romance, its central themes are prejudice and injustice –the hate bred from fear and ignorance, fostered by close-mindedness. In the small, withdrawn community of Torcurra, difference is perceived as an evil, and those who do not fit neatly within its social norms are shunned or outright abused. The characters of Marnie and Raver/n are distrusted by the villagers, though for different reasons. Marnie for her rumoured complicity in her husband’s death, and Raven for his (unrealised) deafness and subsequent inability to communicate or conduct himself in a manner they deem acceptable. But for the local priest, Father Brannan, Marnie and Raven find themselves ostracised from society, living in almost complete isolation.
Jordan walks a fine line here by creating main characters that are almost uniformly sympathetic amid a cast of narrow-minded fear-mongers. Even Father Brannan’s eventual willingness to bend his moral principles somewhat where they concern Marnie’s choices seems dangerously close to making him more of an idealised concept than a flawed and realistic character. However, Jordan manages to sidestep the problem of too much polarity and too little dimension amid her cast of characters by imbuing her protagonists with the emotional and physical scars of their pasts. These are two characters who desperately deserve a measure of happiness, having suffered so much at the hands an unjust society.
Where Jordan really excels as a storyteller is in her crafting of the relationship that develops between Raven and Marnie. While their closeness grows as a by-product of their ability to communicate with each other, there’s also something to be said for the capacity to empathise that seems inherent in both of them. This mutual affinity, a deep understanding of each other’s pain, is the tie that really binds Marnie and Raven together.
The progression of this relationship is handled delicately, and Jordan does not overlook the obstacles that stand in their way, not just in the form of societal opposition, but their own doubts and fears. This is particularly so in the case of Marnie, a young woman who suffered emotionally and sexually during her short marriage. The role of intimacy based on trust and respect is beautifully explored, the scenes between Marnie and Raven all the more poignant for their healing, profound nature.
Interestingly, while the novel is deliberately vague on its time and location particulars, Jordan bases her portrayal of witch trials and rituals on historical fact. These are among the most powerful scenes in the book, such cruelty levied against a young woman simply for being different.
Despite the message-based content of The Raging Quiet, it is not a didactic or overtly moralising novel. Rather, Jordan has written a compelling story that speaks eloquently about the effects of prejudice, the transformative power of empathy, and the simple, human need to be heard. ...more