All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Song In The Dark – Christine Howe

on February 25, 2013

Song In The DarkSong In The Dark
Christine Howe
Penguin AU
2013, 174p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Where do you go when you have no where to go, and no one to turn to?

Paul is in a downward spiral. He’s removed himself from the few family members he has and he’s living with a friend, without a job, barely able to make the rent. For several years, Paul has been used by the older brother of his friend to complete drops and collect money. In return, Paul gets some of the product for his personal use. This arrangement has changed Paul, has made him a slave and there isn’t much he’ll do in order to get the next lot of what he needs to get by. He’s already sold most of his prize possessions, with one thing remaining – the guitar that was his father’s. And then he doesn’t even have that.

When Paul was young, his mother took him and ran, leaving his father and no trace behind. For years they lived in caravan parks and cheap apartments, always ready to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice when Paul’s mother thought she might be getting close to being found. Finally they moved back to the area they had run from when Paul was in his teens and he reconnected with his grandmother Hetty, his father’s mother, whom he would go and visit. She gave him the guitar, which Paul kept from his mother. Like the visits.

Now Paul has done something terrible. He’s hurt the one person left in his family that he cares about. He did something terrible, and then he hurt them. So two terrible things really. And now he’s on the run, but where do you go when there’s no where left for you to go?

Song In The Dark is a debut novel set around Woollongong from Christine Howe. Paul is just out of high school, no job, no money. He lives week to week, borrowing from friends (until they cut him off, or demand things that he doesn’t want to give up). He spends his days getting high and then figuring out how to get what he needs to get high again. His dependency on drugs and his lack of income means that is forced to attempt desperate measures in order to try and secure his next fix. He has hit rock bottom when he comes to this moment – he has nothing left, he’s finally agreed to sell his beloved guitar to his flatmate for way less than what it’s worth. He has no real friends, nothing other than his dependency and it feeds him and drives him. His plan goes horribly wrong and he flees and it is from that moment that his life begins to change.

This is a short novel, so Howe has to make every word count and I believe she does. She gives the reader a pretty comprehensive picture of Paul’s life – time spent on the run with his mother for a large portion of his childhood, so his father couldn’t find them. Life was the road, cheap caravan parks and dingy apartments, moving before he could make any real friends and after a while, not even bothering to try. When they finally move back to the Woollongong area when Paul is a teenager, he seems the kind of child that is ripe to be taken advantage of. His mother has a new boyfriend and her life no longer revolves around Paul and being on the run. Paul finds himself remembering the way to his grandmother’s house and he begins spending time with her, but keeping it quiet. They enjoy a lovely relationship and she gives Paul his father’s guitar and arranges for him to begin lessons. It is something that he treasures. And I think the loss of that tips him over the edge, makes him consider and then attempt to carry out the unthinkable. He tries to justify this by saying he’ll use it for the right reasons, in order to better himself and then others. But it’s all just lies, he really only wants the drug and he’ll do horrible things to be able to get it.

Paul is at times, utterly sympathetic and at others, utterly loathsome. He’s little more than a boy really, not even a man yet and he’s been corrupted from a young age by someone older than him who uses him and controls him by his addiction. And yet in other ways, he does things that are truly abominable and he sits on knowledge, even after he has his chance of redemption and doesn’t make a move to find out anything until the information is forced out of him. There were times when I felt desperately sorry for him, and moved by his situation and there were others where he made me extremely angry. He didn’t have to go this way, he could’ve chosen another path – he could’ve stayed visiting his grandmother, he could’ve chosen to not allow himself to be the kid that ended up in that hole. But he didn’t and maybe it was his upbringing and maybe it was his inherent character. But I felt that he had choices sometimes and he made the wrong ones. And yet at other times I felt he was more a victim than anything. I actually enjoyed the push-pull factor on my emotions with this story. There were lots of things that were not black or white (and at times I questioned the validity of Paul as a reliable narrator).

This is a beautifully written novel, one of the few I’ve read that I feel actually captures the difficulty of addiction and the reality of it, especially here in Australia. It’s easy to feel disconnected from characters within these novels but I didn’t find that happening here. Paul’s grandmother is as big a character as Paul is in this novel and I think that fact alone helped keep me connected to them. She was someone I felt I could really sympathise with and I wanted to keep turning the pages to find out how her story continued. When I was frustrated with Paul, Hetty still held me.

I think this is one of those novels where you don’t always enjoy or love every page, because the subject matter is uneasy and the overall feel is often dark. But it’s the sort of book I’m always glad I read.


Book #48 of 2013


Song In The Dark is the 24th book read and reviewed for AWW2013

2 responses to “Song In The Dark – Christine Howe

  1. Danielle says:

    Oh, good! I really want to read this one – I have it in my ‘soon to read’ pile 🙂

    Great review!

  2. […] in the Dark by Christine Howe takes a look at the life of a teenage addict and his family which Bree reviewed “This is a beautifully written novel, one of the few I’ve read that I feel […]

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