Book Review: Dark Water by Elizabeth Lowry

Dark Water

Published : 2018

Publisher: riverrun

What has made writer Elizabeth Lowry take on the challenge of writing this book? The settings of the sea, a ship and an asylum may not attract the crowds. Further more this historical novel does not deal with either WW 1 or WW 2 – the popular periods for historical novels. And then there is the cannibalism –  that will turn some readers away.

The start of Dark Water is also difficult. I nearly gave up. I like to give at least three stars and this was not rising up to that. I persisted, and was then rewarded. Indeed I enjoyed the middle of the book and towards the end of it I even considered staying up to finish it.

The story is good. It is uncommon. It is not what you expect. Stories like this need to be told. It is good to be aware of the dark waters of the mind.

Elizabeth Lowry structures Dark Water well. There are swift movements between times (now and past) and these are not predictable. Also starting with the sea and nearly closing with it kind of rounds things up. She slowly builds tension in clever ways, but the climax is slightly too long.

Both main characters are male. William Borden is tall, handsome and considered a hero of seas. Hiram Carver comes from an established well-to-do medical family. There are social expectations for both and the burden of this as well as their upbringing forms the basis for the story. Who can admit truth to self or the other, and then live?

In addition to William and Hiram, there are many other characters in Dark Water, but the reader does not really get mixed up with them. These characters are mainly used to build the picture of doctor Hiram Carver. The female characters (a sister and a loved one) portray the female roles of that time with slight twists. For the asylum inmates Lowry has used real case studies and the history of an asylum in Charlestown, though not directly. Some of the sayings are also based on real sayings. This she explains in the acknowledgements.

Elizabeth Lowry writes well. I can recommend this book to all those interested in the human psychology, to those on the lookout for something different and to those of us who don’t mind a darker book now and then.  I would have given five stars if some things had been explained a little more clearly and the uncommon words had sat more naturally in their surroundings.

STARS: 4/5


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