“Shadows” by South African author Joan de la Haye lurked in my to-be-read pile for many months after I bought it: horror stories scare me. I’m a die-hard believer in happy endings, and gruesomeness haunts me for days.
I started reading this story when I was home alone one night…not a good idea for sensitive readers. After some thrilling chills and a sleep plagued by nightmares, I decided that, if I was brave enough to want to finish it, this novel must be read during the day only.
I’m glad I did read it, for the fast pace of this debut novel makes for a quick and entertaining read. With its dark subject — an exploration of insanity and the way humans can quickly be pushed to the dark side — and the mandatory blood, sex and gore that fit the horror genre, as well as the wickedly sly humour, “Shadows” could easily have slipped into a story of all show, but no substance.
However, de la Haye excelled at creating poignant characters that lift this story above the normal generic conventions and into the realm of the superb. From the chilling Carol to the delightful Jack (a torment demon who meets his match in the stubborn Sarah), the people of this story constantly overturn our expectations of them: who really knows what inner demons we each carry within us? Or how close each of us are to the edge of insanity?
Those who unravel in ghastly ways that take their poor souls beyond the edge of normality are never judged. Rather, we are shown the shadows that colour our psyches with painful memories that some people can cope with and others can’t.
Yes, I was suitably scared when reading this novel: it is a horror-able story. But my emotions were touched too.
This story clearly reflects what unnecessary pain we humans cause each other and, without shirking, paints a bleak picture of the road back to “normality” as we recover from the soul wounds we are subjected to (by others and by our own choices.) But, despite this melancholic and harsh vision of the nature of humanity, one is still left with a sense of hope.
No wonder Ms de la Haye was mentioned by British journalist David Barnett of The Guardian newspaper
in a recent article. She deserves her place in that prestigious list of up-and-coming South African speculative fiction authors.