I received a free physical copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
Vivian is a cosmopolitan Taiwanese-American tourist who often escapes her busy life in London through adventure and travel. Johnny is a 15-year-old Irish teenager, living a neglected life on the margins of society.
On a bright spring afternoon in West Belfast, their paths collide during a horrifying act of violence.
In the aftermath, each is forced to confront the chain of events that led to the attack.
*I would like to leave a trigger warning here for rape and assault. I would not recommend reading this book if these occurrences will affect you in any way.
Dark Chapters is Winnie M Li’s debut novel and is based on true events that happened to her. When Vivian takes a trip to West Belfast as an honorary guest for a special occasion, she uses the opportunity to take a hike around the local park and to spend time by herself. Little does she know that, on this spring day, her whole life will change through a chance encounter with Irish traveller, Johnny Sweeney. Dark Chapters explores the ways in which encounters with strangers can lead to life-changing events as both Vivian and Johnny have their lives changed drastically by this event.
Any novel that focuses heavily on incidents such as rape or assault are bound to be hard-hitting and emotional – and this one is no different. Based off of true events in Winnie’s own life, it hits right to the core as Winnie doesn’t hold back going into detail during the rape scene and truly submersing the reader in these raw emotions that show through at such a traumatising time in Vivian’s life. I did frequently find myself uncomfortable through certain scenes which I believe enhanced the emotions that were being portrayed and really helped me to connect with the characters – though I can only imagine what they would be going through. There is a particular scene during the trial between Johnny and Vivian that really showed how connected I had become to Vivian when she found herself becoming frustrated and angered by the questions that were battered against her story and attempted to depict Vivian as the instigator of such an act. I found myself becoming riled up alongside Vivian and really felt like I wanted to shout out the truth to this side-character as I couldn’t believe that he could suggest such a thing!
With this being Winnie’s first novel, there is expected to be some minor issues with writing, character, plot and so on. However, anything that did appear did not bother me in the slightest. I felt that Winnie did a brilliant job at portrayed this life-changing event and you really went deep into both characters lives before, and after, the event. I enjoyed that we got to see Johnny’s side of the story and felt that he was a well developed character who fit the role he had been given perfectly. One issue I did find some fault with was the way in which Vivian, within days, minutes, hours, of her rape was freely telling everyone that she had been raped – including work contacts. Though I can see that Winnie was trying to highlight the stigma around rape and assault victims not coming forward and firmly suggesting that they do, I felt that this was a bit out of character as I certainly would not tell people I barely knew – only close friends and family. This did rattle me a bit but it was something that I easily got over.
Dark Chapters is definitely not a novel for the light-hearted or for those who are deeply affected by events such as these. There is a lot of rehashing over the rape scene by the main and side-characters as the police and the legal system attempt to understand the situation. I definitely believe that it is a story that needed to be told and I did identify with Vivian (even before she was raped she was wary of men who were alone, especially when she travelled alone in another country) which helped me to immerse myself into the story.