Beth's Reviews > What They Do in the Dark

What They Do in the Dark by Amanda Coe
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3.5 stars

I have absolutely no idea how to rate this book.

I might have made the wrong decision now. I'm not sure.

50 pages from the end, I was ready to give it 5 stars.

Let's get one thing straight: Amanda Coe is a fantastic writer. I will read whatever she writes next. She perfects the hardest kind of writing to get right - literary but never pretentious or unrealistic. Some lines and images in "What They Do In The Dark" are so perfect that I had to stop reading for a second just to contemplate them. She's willing to give even her most unpleasant characters a voice and human feelings, like Lally's lonely, pushy stage mother, and she really gets you into their mind-set.

The one thing that dragged "What They Do In The Dark" down is too many subplots. But there was one subplot in particular that was a total bullet in the foot, in my opinion, and that was the dull-as-dishwater whining of Quentin Montpelier, Lally's producer who flies over from America to see if Lally is cut out for a Transatlantic career. Until then, "What They Do In The Dark" has been a harrowing and realistic exploration of life on a council estate and live in the lower middle classes in 1970s suburbia, complete with clever and evocative period details. But you only have to take one look at Quentin Montpelier's full name to figure out what might be wrong with the character, and what makes her so frustrating and out of touch with the rest of the narrative. I totally understand why Coe might have wanted to include her, especially as a jarring foil to Pauline and Gemma. But Coe seemed to pour too much time into this bristly, snobby, rich Hollywood bigwig's daughter. Quentin's clichéd and pathetic love life, her struggles with sexism in Hollywood, her drug addiction and her sex life is just not at all interesting or unique. I found myself developing a personal dislike for the author (which I know sounds totally irrational) based on her love for this upper-class twit. Sorry, I just don't care about some L.A. girl popping pills and getting manipulated by her producer lover when I've just read about a ten-year-old who performs sex acts on random men as her only way of getting money, a prostitute's vicious murder and a young girl being molested by her stepfather. Montpelier belonged in a totally different novel and took us out of Pauline and Gemma's world, fatally for the novel.

Coe totally nailed that intense, claustrophobic and unmistakable world of childhood, and the emotions that go along with it- her description of the short and brutal bond between rough council estate kid Pauline and her vicious, abusive prostitute mother Joanne is brilliantly rendered with the love/hate pull between them. The twist with what happens to Joanne is shocking but well-foreshadowed and so felt more like pieces of plot clicking into place as opposed to a ball from left-field. The same cannot be said for "What They Do In The Dark"'s much-hyped ending, which I'd heard was supposedly shocking and unforgettable. Well...I certainly wish I could forget it. Not just because it was disturbing, but because the disturbing action that ends the novel lacks the credibility that has sustained it throughout. There seemed to have been a mini-trend for novels and pieces centred around children who had become killers a couple of years ago in the UK, and "What They Do In The Dark" didn't have anything new to add. The sexual violence is deeply disturbing but, though not graphic, feels incredibly gratuitous, nothing more than shock value. A shame, because until then, it had been an extremely realistic and well-written novel.
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