Book Review: Dark Chapter

Dark Chapter, by Winnie M Li, is the story of a rape. Told from the points of view of both the victim and the perpetrator, the subject matter has been informed by an assault the author suffered which changed the course of her life. The narrative is detailed, stark and harrowing. The portrayal of a sordid lifestyle within the Irish Traveller community withering.

Vivian Tan is a Taiwanese-American living in London. A Harvard graduate, she works for a film production company in the city. Her work is demanding but enables her to live in a flat share overlooking the river. She enjoys socialising with her many friends; travelling both for business and pleasure. Often she will take the opportunity of visiting a new country to hike alone and discover quiet places where she may admire natural vistas. She enjoys the challenge and feeling of accomplishment that comes from being independent.

On a trip to Belfast Vivian sets out on a hike from the west of the city towards Cave Hill. A young Irish Traveller, Jonny, spots her on the trail and decides he will have sex with her. His rough upbringing, where domestic assault was routine and casual theft expected, has led him to consider good looking girls fair game. He boasts to his friends of his conquests, feeling no shame that his victims were forced, often violently, to accept attentions that satisfy the cravings he feeds with pornography, first offered to him at a young age.

The timeline jumps back and forth between the protagonists’ childhoods, the attack, and the aftermath. The writing is precise and measured with no shirking from graphic detail. Jonny is shown to be incapable of understanding how his victims are feeling. Vivian is shattered by her experience and by the painful process of seeking what passes for justice when she refuses to quietly shoulder her ordeal.

This is a powerful account of a crime that is too often maligned and misunderstood. For this alone it could be regarded as an important work. In deriving empathy for the unremitting and ongoing horror it can also, in places, overwhelm. The bitter undercurrent and raw pain, although understandable, are challenging to read.


My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Legend Press.


Dark Chapter has been shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize 2017. I will be reviewing all of the books on this shortlist in the coming weeks.


If it is wrong don’t accept it as inevitable

School finished yesterday for the Easter holidays; a two week break from routine that we all welcome. I worry about the constant pressure that today’s children are put under with their coursework deadlines, controlled assessments and exam preparation. It sometimes seems that if they take time out to have some fun then they start to fall behind at school.

I have had some interesting conversations with other local mothers recently regarding how their children spend the free time that they make for themselves. Some of these kids worry their parents because they only seem to socialise in school. At home it is all home work, television and computer games; the X box seems to be the current gaming machine of choice, I guess the fighting and the racing offers a release. Other kids do go out to socialise with friends but frequent the regular, massive parties where drink, sex and, increasingly, drugs are prevalent. Most of these kids are still legally underage. They go because they want to be seen to be in with the crowd. They want to be accepted and to be seen to be cool.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been reading a lot this week about the Steubenville rape trial. This morning I read this post and it made me feel uncomfortable Confronting Rape Culture in Our Own Backyard | Rant Against the Random. I have been trying to process my discomfort and I think it is because I am guilty of just accepting as normal some of the stuff that is being discussed here. I will say that again; I am guilty of accepting rape culture as normal.

When other mothers tell me about the teenage parties that are regular occurrences I am guilty of showing interest in the gossip but not expressing any disapprobation. I am allowing myself to feel arrogantly smug that my own children do not attend such events. I am accepting that this sort of thing happens and not showing basic compassion for the kids who feel that this is the best way to have fun. I am not considering how my tacit acceptance of the normality of this situation makes me complicit in it’s perpetuation.

I have no wish to try to grab some arbitrary moral high ground here. I am not trying to say that what most of these kids are doing is evil, or that parents are dreadful for allowing it to happen. I know that a good number of the young people are going out, having fun, maybe drinking a bit too much, and I am not trying to condemn them. What I am uncomfortable with is the idea that after the drink and maybe the drugs there is an expectation amongst a section of this crowd that sex follows and that this is okay; that this is part of the fun. Are we raising our boys to consider girls as some sort of sex toy and allowing our girls to just accept this?

I have tried to raise my children in an environment where they can feel able to talk to me about anything without fear of retribution. I wonder if I have avoided expressing my dismay at some of their peers actions for fear of being seen as an old fuddy duddy. I know that I seem ancient to them already, but I want them to feel that I can empathise with at least some of the issues that they must square up to daily. Teenagers will often feel that they know best and that adults do not understand their lives. I do not want to appear so out of touch that they consider talking things through with me to be a waste of time.

Child rearing can only truly be learnt from experience and parents must learn as they go along what works best for their kids. There will always be plenty of people who will be only too willing to offer what they see as a solution. Given the hate filled, name calling, bile that has appeared in some of the commentary on Steubenville this week I am wary of other people’s opinions. I do, however, want to discuss this with my children. I think it is such an important issue that we shouldn’t just be taking an interest and then moving on as we do with so many news stories.

This post raised a lot of good points that I think are worth discussing  Don’t Shut Up About Rape Culture | The Grumpy Giraffe. I baulk at the idea of a discussion with my children on this subject but if I am to take responsibility (and it is my responsibility) then I need to try.

We need to be telling our children that they should not be making assumptions based on what they think society and their peers expect. They will know when the girl or boy they are with wants sex when that person tells them that they want sex (if they are incapable of responding coherently then help them to get home or to a safe place). If our kids think that they are old enough for sex then they are old enough to ask the question. And, most importantly, it is okay for either party to answer that question with a no.

75/365  -  [i am guilty]