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Book Review: A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne

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A Dark Dividing is a 2004 horror novel from the pen of Sarah Rayne, who both I and Wikipedia have never heard of (which is terribly perplexing, considering the following: that the novel was released in 2004, it wasn’t her first and she’s also British like myself). It’s being re-released for the U.S. market and that is why it’s come to my attention.

The plot involves a complicated family history that a hard-bitten journalist tries to get into and two sets of conjoined twins from 80 years apart (the first set were born at the turn of the 20th century and the second set were born in the 1980s or thereabouts) that are connected somehow. The present scenes are written in the third person and follow the story in general, whereas the “diary extracts” from the 1900s follow one specific woman’s story in the first person and can get a bit tedious at times. I much preferred reading the present ones and honestly considered skipping the past segments. 

It also has running themes and family connections throughout, which hint at a greater book than you get. For instance, both periods have husbands that the wives are not happy with who use their children for their own ends. There is also the strand of family tying the whole book together, although this only really becomes apparent around about page 300 or so. 

A Dark Dividing reminds me of the kind of horror thrillers that I used to get from the library when I was about 11 or so, (Point Break/Point Blank or whatever the hell the range was called) as it uses a similar type of story structure and horror except it has more grown-up protagonists. It also sets out (whether intentionally or not) to teach the reader about conditions in Victorian times and about conjoined twins, all while building to a powerful ending where all is revealed.

Well, that’s the idea, but where it falls down is the fact that the ending itself doesn’t really work. What was no doubt intended to be a murder-mystery style summation of the events of the book explained to one of the characters who wasn’t there just comes across as a recap of the book you just read to the reader who was there. As a result of this, the last 15-20 pages of the book could be summed up in story terms with a sentence, thereby making them unnecessary: “I explained the events to [character] for a long time.” That would’ve sufficed. To add insult to injury, the reader doesn’t even get closure about one of the relationships that arguably forms the backbone of the book (the 1900 diary extract lady and her lover).

There are bits that do work however. The character of Roz is a rather chilling look into how people can turn when manipulated and how it can take one thing to make people snap. She is arguably the best thing about the book and is written very well. And as previously mentioned, the present day narration works the best. 

The main problem with A Dark Dividing is that it’s difficult to know who Rayne is writing for here, as the content and the type of horror is tailored towards children (thereby excluding the adult audience) but there is also some content that is most definitely not for children or possibly even teenagers (I’m thinking of the sexual content specifically here). As mentioned earlier, you also have significantly older protagonists than childrens’ or teen books tend to. As a consequence, it feels like an adult book aimed at children and that doesn’t quite sit right with me.

It’s also difficult to recommend it because who do I recommend it to? It does not know its audience, and for that reason I’m afraid I cannot really recommend it. If you have a friend or relative fluctuating between different ages, then this is the book for them. Otherwise, leave this one on the shelf.

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About Scott Varnham

  • http://judefolly.com jude folly

    i was hoping for the obligatory remarks about the moral, social strictures of the victorian age–how conjoined twins might monkey wrench the ordered society and put to question its ideal types.

    perhaps the conjoined twins is the choice metaphor capturing our era’s conjoined destiny with a by-gone epoch…?