Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Darkroom, Poppet

Graphic, brutal, unrelenting, horrifying, no relief in sight...ever...with strong religious overtones. A good piece of writing.

Fear is a darkroom where negatives develop - Usman B. Asif
- Review by Kazza K

First of all this book is dark. It is not going to be for everyone. It is not for the faint of heart, it is tough going. Reader beware.

DarkroomI can't in all honesty write a proper review for Darkroom. For several reasons. Darkroom is a visceral experience more than a read. To write it down makes it seem trite, and that's a disservice. It is also  loses impact. I will really just put the basics, quotes, and my thoughts down. Also things that I liked or interested me, or,maybe didn't work for me. I will say this, this book is all kinds of nasty, what did I say to a Goodreads friend? 'It's 10 kinds of nasty and twisted, ' I believe; and I was only about 20% through. Having completed it I still stand by that statement, but I threw myself into every minute of it. My adrenaline is still running high, my eyes are falling out of their sockets with tiredness; but I had to finish this book. And you know what's interesting? You get a choice of endings. I liked both. I never romanticised Victor. Wanted him put down actually. However, I can see where people could get attached because this book is like a dose of Stockholm Syndrome.

The basic outline - Shauna has been held hostage by a psychopath whom she couldn't see, it's dark, he hides himself from her. But he identifies himself as 'Vengeance,' who physically and emotionally tortures her all whilst proselytizing his fucked-up version of religion. Mostly using the Hebrew Scriptures, which are big on wrath....and vengeance. Asking her questions that she can never get right, degrading her, piercing her ears using biblical instructions, tattooing her, all with maximum pain. She is held for months and it is graphically described. Vengeance has had other quarry that we get to learn about, as we delve deeper into his mind, and their demise is also graphically outlined. It's just the worst place you could find yourself in. As a female I shuddered -

Have to get a grip. I have no idea how I reckon days here. Wherever here is. I have to save the fluids or I'll dehydrate. Oh God... Rocking myself, simply terrified. Please help me. Some one hear my prayers. Why me?

No! Shaking violently. Can't see. Pain. Oh Jesus! I hardly recongise the screaming as coming from me. Feel the thud before ears register. Like bone imploding against bone inside my head....The blood in my mouth is all I taste - smell-swallow. Shocked. Just- want- pain- to- stop.

"Crawl in the dirt. Dirty whore."

"Did your mommy teach you to say please so that vulnerable men would think you're adorable? You abuse that word."

When he moves behind me: the pain is about to begin again. Punishment for sinning. How can it be sinning if you're not a believer in a book written over two thousnd year's ago? 

Shauna is eventually let go with track marks on her body and dishevelled in appearance, babbling about Vengeance, religion, being kidnapped and brutality.

Soon I shall give my angel her wings back, to see if she can fly.  She will never forget when she discovers the tattoo on her back. Two little wings in the shape of my V, with "Dirty Angel." All the signs of torture have been corrected. It took my deepest surgeon's skills to reconstruct, but it was necessary. When I release her, and she tells her loved ones of what she endured during her cleansing, they will look for physical evidence, and there is none.

He's right. No-one believes her, not even her parents, they've been told, when she was younger, that she seeks attention and acts out because they had separated. Upon return she is treated as a drug addict, which she never has been, and also for psychological issues, further compounding her brutalization. This is just the beginning of the 'fun and games' for Shauna, as Vengeance follows her around. He has everything mapped out for his "Dirty Angel." She continually moves until she settles in South Africa, still an emotional wreck. She's isolated, lonely, missing human touch and camaraderie, with limited, uncomfortable contact with her parents who live overseas. She meets a neighbour, Victor, who seems nice, old fashioned and interested in her. He's a cosmetic surgeon - good career, he loves photography, that's nice. He also likes installing cameras in every room of her house, spying on her...and killing her dates, when she goes on one. Victor is Vengeance, this is not a spoiler, you know who he is. You're privvy to the two voices often describing the same topic - Shauna and her life, plus religious indoctrination. With Victor you also get to see his inner monologue about his Father, how he was raised, with religious zealotry, abuse, and the hatred of women - total, utter misogyny, hidden behind religions ravings - Eve is the defiler of men, the ruination of the human race.....There are many quotes of Scriptures or major prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, also quotes from photographers - photography can capture a moment like no other, the look on a face of someone drugged, defiled, in pain, impure, pure....

Here's what is incredibly interesting about Darkroom. You can find yourself looking at Shauna like she is loose in morals. Once we settle into life with her in South Africa she is still very fragile. However she gradually tries to have some contact, hoping Vengeance is left behind this time. She goes out on a few occasions, gets drunk and has sex with some guys, one a blind date another through a friend, fools around with a girlfriend that comes to visit and, yet, is she bad for this? Is she a 'whore?' No, she's a twenty eight year old adult. She is single, she should be able to live life, have sex, intimacy and pleasure, BUT Victor/Vengeance gets not only into Shauna's head but the readers heads,  too. If you let him. And what's more insidious is you don't know it unless you look for it, unless you're consciously aware of it. Nice writing, combined with unusual, strong, authoratative writing. It's not sympathetic to Victor/Vengeance, hell he slices a woman's breats open because she dared to disrespect the Father by having breast implants. He rapes, tortures, kills. He's not a nice guy, it's there in black and white. It shows you the power people can have over others, their thoughts, propaganda, brainwashing, its all quite simple really. Pick your mark, confuse them, break them down, rebuild them - your way - make them believe what you believe, push them so far off balance they'll never right themselves. Push your opinion's on someone else, they'll now soak it up.

I loved the different POV's....

Shauna - He leans a hand against the wall, while his hips imprison mine. The other hand traces my face and settles on my neck. It's a simple act of touch, yet it's deeply erotic. It is one move that few men employ.....But with Victor, I get the distinct feeling he's a little old fashioned. He likes making the first moves and leading. ....I'm yet to find out how old he is, and I know it wouldn't make any difference. he turns my entire body into a vibration of pleasure notes. Even his deep baritone sings to my soul   

Victor - In this stage I must still test the boundaries of her commitment to my absolute authority. Walking her backward until she's hard up against a wall. I hold her against it with one hand on her neck. She doesn't even lift a hand. She stays there staring up at me with lusty eyes. Trusting, seductive eyes. Keeping my hand on the fragile neck, I kiss her, testing responsiveness with her life under my command.....Whenever she passes a test, the dominance is like a hydraulic infusion into my libido.

...same senario, such differing psychology/outlook.

Shauna. I neither liked her nor disliked her. She just 'was' for me. That may make no sense. I felt sorry for her, she has been/is manipulated, she is a pawn in a sick fanatics game, the dysfunction of one family spilling into hers. I understand why she is where she is, how she can't get out - she's been dismantled. Her life is almost like the Truman Show, but only for one man and by extension his family, her life is not real anymore. She is dismantled and never allowed to get her bearings again. She never saw it coming and she was dragged into a vortex no-one could withstand given the circumstances.

Victor. I did not like him. Oh yes, I understood him. I could not like him. Just think to yourself what if it were me, my wife, my daughter? then reasess Victor. Was he interesting as a character? Absolutely. Was he cringe-worthy? Thoroughly; you cannot say he wasn't. He's a study in warped psychology and in paraphilia. He wanted sex, wanted to like sex, did like sex, didn't like sex, wanted to revel in dominant sex, wanted pain to be inflicted on his female, his 'angel' but he hated that. Women lead you into temptation, sex is dirty...but not with your 'angel,' but you can't trust them.....No-one can ever be right for this person. He will always snap. He is beyond redemption. You are never really let into a nice place in this book. there are times when Victor 'softens,' seem to  'care,' he really doesn't; it's a means to a controlled end. Something for the Father. Maybe, perhaps there was some new beliefs settling into his mind towards the end, but he is too far gone.

Just some thoughts and observations-

I'll be totally depraved here and say I found this book oddly erotic. I truly did. This is new ground for me given the content. Good writing! Every chapter is headed up with a scripture or quote for the chapter you are about to read, the situation. They lead you into the chapter with some idea of the intensity about to unfurl. There is a very good use of language, imagery, and intensity drawing together a ruined person and a religious psychopath. There are also photographer's quotes, and others that really gave substance and further meaning to the title of the book, Darkroom. Victor has his darkroom, no-one goes in there but him, unless it's to mess with a mind -

Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness - Yousuf Karsh

It is not for me to place my interpretation here on the Scriptures used. I'm not making a judgement call either way. I rarely give the Hebrew Scriptures any thought. However history has shown us a few things, continues to, actually. I do know they have been used for a lot of hurt and misinterpretation by people who are unhinged, hateful, twisted...and to suit as a means to an end for divisive behaviour. I'm sick of Leviticus 20:13, for example, to trample people's human rights into the ground. No, it's not a Scripture used here, just an observation by me.

I appreciated the use of the word Sheol instead of Hades. Sheol is the Hebrew word for the underworld, hell, or a mass human grave of death, and there are subtle differences in Bible editions eg Hades as opposed to Sheol or Hebrew Scriptures as opposed to Old Testament. It is the little things that make a sigificant difference in the writing and enjoyment level for this reader. I liked the use of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures to showcase Victor's fanatacism.

 My one complaint - The CBT and hypno didn't sit right with me. It's a small, small part...and I'm picky.

Probably my favourite in terms of summing up the twisted logic of Vengeance, and his families long reaching twisted pschology is 2 Timothy 3:16 (Chirstian Greek Scriptures, but a book about what they considered to be the end of days)

Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for instruction, for refproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, for training in righteousness.


Deuteronomy 25:5 - it's the same difference.Yes, I'm cryptic.

If you like dark, psychological reads. If you're prepared to hold your breath for a long period of time. If you're prepared for a rollercoaster ride that has you stuck upside down while they repair it, then Darkroom could just be for you. I really enjoyed the hell out of it!



  1. I now totally see your point from when you said it was a difficult (but intriguing) read. I know that you are a huge fan of this author and after reading your review I can see why. This sounds so dark yet interesting. Great review. Another one that pulled me in.

  2. Thanks, Cindi. Yep, Poppet writes an interesting book. I do love her style and she just goes for it. It was incredibly detailed seriously the Scriptures alone were incredible and so cleverly used.

  3. KazzaK thank you so much for this phenomenal review. You rock my world x

    1. You are so welcome, Poppet. Loved it! I'm still thinking about it today. I believe you may have a sequel? Hope I'm right. That would be something else.



    2. Yes, there will eventually be a follow up book (hopefully 2013 will be that year)

  4. Oh lordy, this sounds really good - but I suspect it's rather too strong stuff for me at the moment as I'm feeling battered by the year!


    1. Hi, Anne. It is a very interesting book. If it's psychological, and well written, I'm on it - and it was both of those things. Let me see, hmm, I remember one of yours, A Dangerous Man. It took me days to recover from that one :) :) I hear you loud and clear about the year. Feel less 'battered' soon xx