Kept in the Dark – Penny Hancock

keptinthedarkI read Penny Hancock’s debut novel Kept in the Dark in one breathless gulp. I absolutely couldn’t put it down. I love it when that happens.

Sonia lives in a house next to the Thames. Her husband, Greg, is a lecturing neurosurgeon; her daughter, Kit, is a student at university and Sonia herself is a vocal coach. From the outside looking in, it would appear that Sonia has it all. It’s pretty obvious, though, that Sonia isn’t entirely sane. When the nephew of a friend drops by to pick up an album, Sonia plies him with wine, then drugs him and locks him upstairs in the sound proof music studio.

Jez is just fifteen. He’s in London visiting his Aunt Helen and Uncle Mick and applying to colleges. His mother, Maria, lives in Paris. Sonia is taken with Jez immediately.

His dark fringe has fallen across one eye. He flicks I back, and looks at me from under long, perfectly formed black eyebrows. I notice his sinuous neck with its smooth Adam’s apple. There’s a triangular dip where his throat descends towards his sternum. His skin has a sheen on it that I’d like to touch. He’s of adult proportions yet everything about him is glossy and new.

The novel’s first person narrative is so creepy and claustrophobic.  We get to watch as Sonia justifies her behavior and work through the endless complications of keeping a fifteen-year-old boy captive. First of all, what happens when her husband arrives home from his business trip? What will she do when her daughter and her boyfriend come home from university. And then there’s Seb. He’s clearly someone from her past and Jez obviously reminds her of him, but who is he? Sonia says he was “the most beautiful creature that ever walked upon the earth.” Hancock seamlessly weaves Sonia’s present with her past and the mystery of Seb is equally as compelling as Jez’s fate.

There is a second narrator: Helen. Jez’s aunt is a bit of a mess in her own way. Jez’s disappearance while under her care has thrown Helen’s life into turmoil. When her sister arrives from Paris and the police get involved, Helen feels more like a suspect than a relative.

This book was so good. S.J. Watson, author of Before I Go to Sleep, sang its praises and I have to say I agree with Mr. Watson. Sonia’s midlife crisis – a rather strained relationship with her daughter; a sexless marriage; a difficult mother; and the house she grew up in that she vows never to leave despite the fact that her husband wants to sell and move to Geneva all seem to be conspiring against her. But none of it is convoluted or silly. The plot unravels like a dream that is both terrifying and strangely erotic.

Highly recommended.

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