|My Sunshine Away is a harrowing coming of age novel about the rape of fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson, told from the perspective of her younger neighbour who has been in love with her since the tender age of eleven.
Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the story immediately called to mind a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird. It mainly follows the year of the rape, 1991, and the year after, 1992.
The narrator extremely naive, as admitted by himself when he looks back at his own thoughts and feelings years after the assault was committed. One of the most heart-breaking moments is when his mother explains to him that Lindy has been raped, and he makes it clear that he is unaware of what the word truly means.
But this endearing quality to the narrator also makes for a very confusing read, and as you work your way through the novel your emotions towards him change regularly. Yes, he is sweet, young and naive, protected from much that is bad in the world. However, as he grows up, you watch him discover his sexuality and his obsession with Lindy becomes perverse. You learn the narrators innermost thoughts and feelings, which at times are so personal that you feel like you are an intruder in his mind, like you should not be party to it. .
Throughout the book you wonder to yourself “Did HE do it?”. He admits from the start that he is a suspect in the rape, but your opinion of him will jump back and for during the tale. Obviously I will not reveal the truth here, as it will ruin this fantastic thriller for potential readers. I would simply like to mention that I found the revelation of the identity of the rapist disappointing.
This was an absorbing and heart-wrenching read. The characters have a brilliant depth which is not often easily found, and the plot itself is filled with twists that will knock you sideways. But I felt as if all of the suspense was built up for an anti-climax. If Walsh had altered the last three pages or so, it would have been an all-round knock-out.
Although I was slightly annoyed with the ending, I can’t get over the depth of character created throughout the novel.
Lindy herself is an outstandingly complex character, which is made all the more interesting by the fact that she is explained through the eyes of the naive narrator. When he sees Lindy rebelling against society and becoming strangely recluse, you as the reader understand what inner turmoil she must be going through. The narrator is too young, too innocent to understand why Lindy has changed so much since her assault, but the way in which he describes her changes tells us how broken she is, how much of a danger she is to herself. You see her suffering when he does not.
You read as slowly the narrator catches on to the gravity of what has happened to Lindy, as he realises the physical, emotional and mental torture that she carries around with her since the event. You watch as the narrator is hit with the brutal reality of rape and it’s consequences. You see him starting to understand that growing up means understanding how harsh the world can be, and how terrible things change people deeply inside.
For example there is also his mother, who was left by his father a few years before the rape occurred. Throughout the story you realise that his mother still pines for his father, you see how lonely and how depressed she has become, even though he doesn’t see it himself.
That is one of the most incredible things about this tense novel- through the narrators descriptions of other peoples behaviour you can clearly see that they are struggling and you can guess why, while all along the narrator himself simply does not understand.It is that harsh reality of life being told through the blissfully ignorant voice of the narrator which creates such an emotive, engrossing and disconcerting mystery.
Taboo and controversial topics are told through his innocent eyes, and he doesn’t understand the gravity of many of the things he hears and sees. Rape, abusive marriages, drugging, cheating and even paedophilia are examined within the book, but they are discussed subtly. We the readers know why we are disturbed by the idea of someone raping a fifteen-year-old, of someone keeping photos taken of children walking down the street without them knowing. The narrator is distressed by these, but he cannot put his feeling on why he is uneasy. It is only once that he has hit puberty and becomes aware of his own sexuality that he sees the gravity of what these perverse things could mean.
This book examines some of the most horrifying tragedies that can happen to anyone, and some of the most debilitating fears that can take over someone’s life.
These saddening and disconcerting issues are dealt with sensitively, in a prose which relays the weight of them so subtly that it will break your heart.
A book hasn’t made me this uncomfortable, this disturbed in months. But while it was uncomfortable to read it was also incredible. The way in which Walsh has handled such delicate situations is like nothing I have seen before. The depth of character and scale of the novel is very, very impressive. I have a feeling this will be big when it’s published in the UK.