Whistle in the Dark is a gripping and compelling read about a teenage disappearance. Experienced through the confused and desperate eyes of Jen (Lana’s mother), the question, ‘How do you rescue someone who has already been found?’ is an unrelenting echo throughout your reading journey.
Lana Maddox is a complex character to delve into. Her silence and unpredictable temperament an indicator of something more than teenage hormones. Lana feels an itchiness under her skin, like birds underneath the surface. They’re trapped and she feels an urge to scratch at her skin, to cut and let them out…
Her depression, her feeling of being trapped in life, her secretive nature all make her character that more intriguing. But it also makes her behaviour that more concerning. Why is it that Lana won’t talk after going missing for 4 days? Why is she unable to explain her injuries, where she was, who she saw?
The answer becomes clear at the end when Jen’s journey to understanding her daughter’s disappearance comes full circuit; when a desperate mother takes a walk in her daughter’s shoes…
Jen, though an equally interesting character, it appears Healey hinders her from reaching her full potential as a believable character. Jen is satirised as the over-anxious mother whom stalks her daughter’s social media account, listens in on her phone conversations, becomes paranoid that her daughter’s voice has changed, is blinking too often, is talking throughout the night. Obviously, this is an understandable reaction of a mother whose daughter disappeared for 4 days and returned with a gash on her head, bruises around her ankles and blots in her memory. It even adds a light-hearted comedic tone which breaks up the suspense and mystery. However, this, couple with Jen’s slightly morbid and obsessive theories of what happened to Lana makes the reading experience odd; Jen’s character and the narrative become inconsistent.
The depiction of modern middle class is what drives the novel, highlighting the positives as well as the bad modes of living. Instagram pictures of plates of foot, Jen’s lesbian daughter who is expecting to have her straight friend’s baby, pop culture references and the challenging mother-daughter relationship are all believable and relatable factors (albeit, perhaps another attempt at satire) which also add to the comedy.
Interestingly, as the novel progresses, it is not the stability of Lana that we are concerned for (though we remain questioning her secretiveness and creepiness), but Jen. As the narrative progresses, we see Jen completely vulnerable, her mind unravelling just like the mystery of Lana’s disappearance. Her obsession, paranoia and hallucinations all equate to her position as an unreliable narrator. How can we be expected to trust the voice and thoughts of a character whom appears to be on the outskirts of reality? She cannot cope with not knowing the truth of Lana’s experience, of being shut out of Lana’s trust, and so, becomes the object of fragility.
This is a clever tool and highlights Healey’s ability to complicate reader expectations; Jen and Lana swap positions, the pressure of Lana’s disappearance converting Jen into a scared, ill child. On that note, Healey’s downfall arises from her lack of explicit exploration of Jen’s mental state. Through inference of Jen’s behaviour, it is obvious that she suffers from a mental illness that runs deeper than PTSD. The subtle hints and careful exploration of Jen’s thoughts is what makes the writing mature and compelling, yet there is no resolution for Jen, no indication of realisation or recovery surrounding her illness at the end of the novel.
Unfortunately, this fact along with other unresolved hints and clues surrounding Lana’s disappearance (the t-shirt, the blanket, Lana’s creepy behaviour, the cat etc.) made the ending a disappointment; I needed more answers.
Did this harbour my overall enjoyment?
I still thought this was an amazing read! Perhaps there was an element of expecting too much after reading the wonderful Elizabeth is Missing. Perhaps I needed to take a step back and appreciate it for what it was; a beautiful exploration of the complexities of mental illness and the effect this has on your sense of identity and relationships in the modern world.
I loved the atmosphere of the novel, the sense of unease and paranoia, the intensity and the slow unraveling nature of the mystery surrounding Lana. The narrative will absorb you, your mind wrapped up in the desire to know the truth.
Because, ‘How do you rescue someone who has already been found?’
Copyright: Laura Davis © 2018, all rights reserved.