Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Book Review: DARK CHAPTER by Winnie M Li

Title: Dark Chapter
Author: Winnie M Li
Legend Press
May 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Book Description (Goodreads):

Vivian is a cosmopolitan Taiwanese-American tourist who often escapes her busy life in London through adventure and travel. Johnny is a 15-year-old Irish teenager, living a neglected life on the margins of society.

On a bright spring afternoon in West Belfast, their paths collide during a horrifying act of violence.

In the aftermath, each is forced to confront the chain of events that led to the attack.

Inspired by true events, this is a story of the dark chapters and chance encounters that can irrevocably determine the shape of our lives. 

My musings:

If I had to choose only three words to sum up Li’s debut novel Dark Chapter, it would be: compelling, well-written and courageous. Drawing on her own personal experiences, the author’s account of her character’s journey to reclaim her life after the traumatic assault and rape she suffered at the hands of her attacker is well drawn and authentic – as it is harrowing and disturbing. Some readers may find the scenes describing Vivian’s rape confronting, but I thought they are refreshingly honest and brave. Her visceral account of events is not added for shock value, but to recount her character’s experience in all its gritty reality. Vivian’s voice is natural and engaging, and she quickly drew me into the story. Having been in contact with victims of rape and assault through my work as an A&E nurse, the story really highlighted the long, ongoing journey these women face in trying to come to terms with the trauma and to move on from it despite the havoc it wreaked on their lives.

“The person she is now. The person she still can be. The person she always was.”

Personally, I felt the courtroom scenes especially harrowing, and am not surprised that many women shy away from laying charges just because they cannot face the additional burden of being in the media spotlight and under crossfire from the lawyers. How horrible to have to relive your worst nightmare, and having to justify your own actions, when you are the innocent party. Incredible, really, that our society allows the victims of rape and assault to be further traumatised like this!

“And then she realises how ridiculously unfair this whole system is. She was the one who was walking along on her own, when he did this to her. And then she has to wait almost a year to sit in front of a room full of strangers, tell them the humiliating truth, stand up to a sleaze-bag barrister trying to paint her as a villain-seductress and then listen to the boy make up this trash about her? Is this what we have to subject ourselves to, in order to get justice?”

Dark Chapter is told in two alternating voices – that of vivacious Vivian, setting out on a hike she has been looking forward to; and that of 15-year old Johnny Sweeney, a troubled boy who is about to destroy her trust and innocence forever. Whilst I am often not a fan of getting too much into the mind of the perpetrator in novels, Li’s book proved that – if executed the right way (i.e. to add depth, not shock value) – this approach can add a lot to the story. Whilst I found this rapist remorseless and lacking in insight, and could make no excuses for his actions, exploring his childhood and upbringing did sow a small seed of empathy for his troubled mind. I applaud the author for being able to present the perpetrator in such an honest light, when a lot of emotions must be tangled up in the story for her. 


Focusing on the events surrounding a horrific assault and rape and the effects on the victim’s life afterwards, Dark Chapter is a story of courage, hope and moving forward. I loved Li’s writing, which is as unflinchingly honest as it is engaging. It is obvious that a lot of the author’s emotions were tied up in this story, and she conveys them effortlessly to the reader, giving us a true-to-live main protagonist that is so real she could be your friend, neighbour, relative.  Although some might find it confronting in its honesty, I couldn’t put it down would recommend it highly to female and male readers alike. I hope to read a lot more from this talented author in future. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Legend Press for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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