Take heed of the nonsense jacket blurbs on this novel that tell us this book is an international sensation and one of the UK’s best books of the year with the rights sold to Revolution films. If it’s Haynes’ purpose to study the reasons leading up to domestic violence, she
is a naïve to think that we would swallow many of the horrifying scenarios that she posits in this book.
Often meandering as it covers several years, Into the Darkest Corner jumps between two very different states in the life of Haynes’ first-person narrator Catherine, who has suffered an abuse so great that
it leaves her dangling on threads of paranoia and fear. When we meet Catherine, she
has just moved to London from Lancaster after escaping the clutches of hot, handsome Lee, who has turned her life into a cycle of abuse and terror.
Typical of an independent, sexually assertive young woman, Catherine isn’t ashamed to admit to her girlfriends that she’s turned-on by Lee’s fervent desire for twisted, kinky sex. As the reader moves between the “before and after” scenes
of Catherine’s escape from Lee‘s clutches, the author paints a violent portrait
focused on Catherine’s inability to fully comprehend both the brutality committed against her and her realization that just walking away
is harder than she could ever have imagined.
Despite her sexual inclinations, Catherine is unprepared for the electricity
sparking between her and Lee. A detective who moonlights as a part-time bouncer, Lee has a sensual mouth
with a sexy, lop-sided grin and a macho sensibility. Catherine is stunned
by how voraciously and violently he rips her panties off and has his way with her on the table in the back office of the seedy, pulsating River nightclub.
Like most young women, Catherine is guilty of the typical relationship mistake. In her naïve smugness, she assumes that Lee’s intensity is a sign of his love and devotion, his only black mark his penchant for “rough sex.” Neither she nor her best friend, Sylvia, want to acknowledge the signs: the lecherous, secretive looks on Lee’s bruised face, his abrupt arrival at Catherine’s house late at night, the sudden meetings in coffee shops where he titillates Catherine with his dirty talk, and her refusal to acknowledge anything other than the fact that he’s “totally hot!”
Although I felt manipulated by Haynes’ telegraphed plot twists (think Fatal Attraction with the
gender roles reversed), the author does an adequate job of exposing Catherine’s pounding heart, the girl’s obsessive terror proof that Haynes can write a thriller. The story falters
in its portrayal of Lee, a shadowy, superficial villain who from the outset is
suggestively self-evident. Still, the tale mostly works, unfolding in a fearful pastiche of impressions on obsessive-compulsive disorder.
We witness an emotionally battered Catherine, plagued by panic attacks, returning to her London flat, fanatically checking and rechecking the front door six and twelve times.
Freaked out by blond-haired strangers in suits, Catherine is intrepid but frustrating in her naivety.
In the end, the story is predictable and sophomoric, and horrific in its graphic depictions of cruelty toward women. The novel is what it is: a gratuitous little tale that arouses limited empathy as it relates to a girl who enters into a world of hot, sweaty sex but eventually gets more than she bargained for.