The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Can't Escape, Yet Can't Accept (Review: Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara)

Lovely, Dark and Deep
Amy McNamara
Simon and Schuster 2012

Once, there was a girl called Mamie who was carefree, hopeful, fun and full of joie de vive, ready to deal with whatever life threw her way.  Then came the accident, bringing death, guilt and overwhelming grief in its wake; sweeping Mamie away and leaving in her place Wren – a mute shadow, running from her past, running from her future.  After almost a year, Wren finds herself in deepest Maine, pounding through icy woods, sleep-walking through the other aspects of her life and unable (unwilling) to unlock the lost Mamie.  Happy to remain in her self-inflicted limbo until a chance encounter leaves her reluctantly unable to hide any longer.

If dying is the opposite of living, then Wren is dying. Traumatised, deeply depressed and often literally unable to articulate the turmoil she is experiencing she chooses to sleep and when she’s not sleeping, she chooses to run… and run, and run.  Running is the only way she can stop her mind from returning to the fateful accident at the heart of her story.  Everything about Wren is laid bare, as clear to the reader as it is to those around her – largely because she doesn’t have the energy to pretend anymore. She can’t try to be happy, she can’t try to move on, she can barely manage to be civil and, one suspects, only does so because the energy of participating in any arguments would be too much. Often, characters suffering from depression can be irritating, with the innate selfishness that comes with the condition leaving the character unsympathetic.  However, Wren’s grief is so well articulated by McNamara that you cannot be angry with her – she’s in agony and has lived so long apart from the world that her attempts to reconnect are awkward, painful and sad.

Cal is a somewhat dichotomous character.  On one hand, he seems about to give up on life himself but on the other he seems to have a desperate desire to re-ignite Wren’s.  As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the one is related to the other and Cal’s patience as well as his frustration only highlights the depth of their friendship. He’s a very believable character and while the relationship between him and Wren seems to move quickly, on closer inspection (and reflection), it’s a tentative thing, nursed carefully by his inner motivation. Wren’s parents are lightly but carefully sketched. Both clearly feel the frustration of learning to deal with a child who is no longer a child but whom they see floundering and desperately want to help.  The tentative nature with which they approach Wren (even her hectoring mother) speaks of a deep fear for their wounded child.  Other characters slip in and out, from the staid and solid presence of Lucy, the librarian to bright bird, Mary who flits around Wren, piercing her muted existence with astonishing splashes of colour as she reaches into her gloomy Neverland and pulls her out, even if only for a little while.

Lovely, Dark and Deep is not a story that ties everything up in a neat bow but one that asks quiet questions about the nature of grief.  Particularly subtle are the questions raised over Wren’s friendship with Cal, none of which are truly answered, leaving the reader to decide for themselves whether it is healthy. What this aspect of the book manages to convey perfectly is that the road to recovery is hard and you find what gets you through one day, and then the next and then the next.  Do Wren and Cal use each other as a means to get through their respective days? Perhaps, but there can be no denying the strength and necessity of the bond they have formed.

Amy McNamara’s writing is accomplished with Wren’s numb, clipped tone balanced with beautifully visual descriptions of the ice and snow that personify her frozen existence.  Throughout the book, McNamara references the poetry of Philip Larkin (not, as might have been expected, that of Robert Frost, although he is there every time Wren runs through those deep, dark woods) and cunningly works his final refrain from The Trees into the closing section of her book to great effect.  Lovely, Dark and Deep works as Young Adult, but is most at home in the emerging New Adult genre. Wren is young, but entirely independent – as is Cal – and the story follows them both as they deal with the realisation that, at the end of the day, they are responsible for the choices that they make.  Unlike the majority of New Adult titles available, McNamara has not felt the need to shoehorn in bad sex scenes in order to bolster dubious characters and a poor plot, rather she has written a story grounded entirely in reality and one that should be lauded as fulfilling the potential of what could be an exciting new genre.  Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Lovely, Dark and Deep is available now. Splendibird would highly recommending reading the Philip Larkin collection, High Windows as an accompanying text - you won't regret it. 


Unknown said…
Your reviews just blow me away. I loved this book and its raw portrayal of grief.
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