Tuesday 20 February 2018

Heartbreaking and gripping story of racism, loss and redemption

Thriller: Black Water, Louise Doughty, Faber & Faber, €18.19

Blackwater by Louise Louise Doughty
Blackwater by Louise Louise Doughty

Anne Marie Scanlon

In February almost everyone I know was obsessed with the televised version of Doughty's seventh novel Apple Tree Yard.

Black Water, while sharing many of the same themes as its predecessor, is a different beast entirely.

The first part of the novel, set in 1998, centres on Harper, lying awake at night in his company's 'hut' in Bali waiting to be murdered on the orders of his superiors. There's mystery - clues are given about who Harper is and there are many references to Jakarta in 1965. Harper then meets a nice lady called Rita.

To be honest at this point I found it hard to care about Harper or Rita. I was vaguely interested in what happened in Jakarta in 1965 but I was still able to put the book down.

Harper is a 'researcher' for an international organisation which looks after the interests of massive multinationals. He is not a spy as he does not owe allegiance to any one country but rather to whoever is signing off his pay check.

However, he and his colleagues live double lives and do the dirty work that no country would ever officially sanction.

In the second section Doughty takes us back to Harper's birth in 1942. Nicolaas Den Herder, as he was then named, was born in a Japanese internment camp in what was then the Dutch East Indies. At this point I became gripped, as Doughty introduces a host of memorable characters - Harper's unstable mother, his adoptive grandparents and his baby brother. Now I found the book hard to put down, because I cared. This section is not just gripping but utterly heartbreaking in many different ways.

In the final section the reader is returned to 1998 for the conclusion to Harper's story. Doughty deals with a lot in this book - racism, difference, post-colonialism, the indifference of the West to Indonesia, loss and redemption. Harper's guilt is catching when you realise that geography dictates that some atrocities are deemed less important than others.

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