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What They Do in the Dark
by Amanda Coe

Overview -

Like Lionel Shriver s We Need to Talk About Kevin and Donna Tartt s The Little Friend, this gripping novel pulls you toward its unimaginable climax and will leave you haunted and heartbroken.

Spoiled but emotionally neglected Gemma, who seems to have everything, and semi-feral Pauline, who has less than nothing, are two very different ten-year-old girls growing up in a tough Yorkshire town in the 1970s.  Read more...


 
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More About What They Do in the Dark by Amanda Coe
 
 
 
Overview

Like Lionel Shriver s We Need to Talk About Kevin and Donna Tartt s The Little Friend, this gripping novel pulls you toward its unimaginable climax and will leave you haunted and heartbroken.

Spoiled but emotionally neglected Gemma, who seems to have everything, and semi-feral Pauline, who has less than nothing, are two very different ten-year-old girls growing up in a tough Yorkshire town in the 1970s. Pauline longs for the simple luxuries of Gemma s life: her neatly folded socks and her clean hair. Gemma, upset by her parent s breakup, loses herself in fantasies of meeting the child television star Lallie. When Lallie shoots a movie in their hometown, Gemma and Pauline grab the chance for their wildest dreams to come true. But the film becomes a terrible catalyst for the larger forces acting on the two girls, a dysfunctional adult world that trickles down to the children; and playground bullying escalates, with dreadful consequences."

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780393081381
  • ISBN-10: 0393081389
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Publish Date: March 2012
  • Page Count: 250


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Family Life

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2012-01-30
  • Reviewer: Staff

It begins for 10-year-old Gemma Barlow, almost mockingly as it turns out, with another one of her “perfect Saturdays,” a languid day of swimming and hot chocolate and comics and sweets. Very soon, however, this insistently bleak debut by British television writer Coe launches a snowball of dysfunction and trauma that culminates in a horrific gut-punch climax. In a 1970s northern English town, Gemma lives a coddled life, but when her parents separate and she and her mother move in with her mother’s boyfriend, her world is knocked askew. Gemma’s life still seems enviable to classmate Pauline Bright, though, who endures chaos and neglect at home. As the two girls fall into each other’s sinking spirals, the arrival in town of Gemma’s idol, child star Lallie Paluza, to film a movie, acts as a catalyst not for a happy reversal but for a culmination of sufferings. Although the perspective of the book, even when narrated by Gemma, doesn’t feel particularly childlike, a sense of powerlessness and half-awareness of adult events and motivations feels authentic and heightens the tension. Coe plots these ruined childhoods in a convincing fashion, including everything from drugs to divorce to molestation, without a heavy hand. She has an adept eye for psychological progression, but her unsparingly dreary vision makes for tough going. Agent: Anna Webber, United Agents, U.K. (Mar.)

 
BookPage Reviews

Two girls face the dark world of adults

Screenwriter Amanda Coe’s fiction debut, What They Do in the Dark, is distressing. It is also technically impressive, and while its subject matter—the wreckage resulting when adults fail children—is somber, its character portrayals are soaked in the warmth of honesty. Set in a working-class northern town in 1975 England, the book chronicles a gloomily pivotal spring/summer in the lives of 10-year-old schoolmates Gemma Barlow and Pauline Bright. The girls are not exactly friends, but are drawn together by their fractured souls. Their fates become hauntingly entwined.

Gemma is a good student from a middle-class home, whose perfect Saturdays are brought to a perfect close by watching “It’s Lallie,” the wholesome television vehicle of child star Lallie Paluza, with whom she is obsessed. By contrast, the ironically named Bright household is marked by hopelessness and decay, and abuse and neglect have turned Pauline, already a fearsome bully, into a time bomb of aggression. Their lives intersect when Lallie comes to town, starring in her first feature film as the victim of a pedophile. As the filming progresses, partially at Gemma and Pauline’s school, the girls’ lives change: Gemma’s mother leaves her father, moving her in with a new boyfriend, and Pauline’s wretched home life reaches terrible new lows.

Points-of-view alternate from Gemma and Pauline to Vera, an aging actress with a small part in the film; Frank, Lallie’s put-upon agent; and Quentin, a neurotic young American woman whose new job as a producer brings back childhood demons. Quentin wants to save Lallie from her apparently toxic stage mother and a future as a Hollywood casualty, but Quentin’s addictions (to chemicals and men) leave her ineffective. At the center of it all is the mystery of Lallie, whose life is surely troubled—the question is how darkly so.

A shocking ending breaks the book’s brewing storm but does not bring relief. In Coe’s vivid, well-crafted character details and expert plotting, the seemingly unimportant—but always enjoyable—proves crucial. The book is shot through with ambiguity and character ambivalence, but despite its lack of answers, it reads even better the second time around. A provocative achievement, What They Do in the Dark stays with you after the last page.

 
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