I’ve never been a big reader of psychological thriller novels but Darling by Rachel Edwards has changed that.
Set in contemporary Brexit Britain, the book charts the complicated relationship between a black British woman called Darling and her white stepdaughter. On the morning of the EU referendum result in 2016, Darling is racially abused outside her local supermarket. Fortunately, a kind widower called Thomas comes to her defence. After this encounter, Darling and Thomas begin dating and are married within a few months, to the disbelief of his 16-year-old daughter Lola. Neither Lola or Darling want to be in each other’s lives but Darling is willing to try and make it work. Lola, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to get rid of Darling for good.
This story is told from Darling and Lola’s points of view in alternating chapters. Lola’s chapters are written in the form of entertaining journal entries, which she writes mainly for her therapist. Lola and Darling’s characters are so convincing. My feelings about them constantly evolved throughout the story and had completely changed by the time I finished it. Lola’s voice is written brilliantly. Her chapters ooze a near-perfect combination of attitude, humour and teenage angst. I couldn’t stand her initially but she made me laugh a lot. Unlike Lola, there’s an air of mystery surrounding Darling. There’s little mention of her past or even her family, with the exception of her six-year-old son who she adores. What is known about her for certain is that she’s a nurse of Jamaican descent and she’s raised her only child singlehandedly so far.
I loved the pacing of this story. I was a little more on edge during the second half of the book, due to the events that unfold later on. At one point I thought I’d predicted the ending, but my presumptions were proved entirely wrong and I wasn’t ready for the major plot twist in Darling.
Lola can’t get over the fact that her father married a black woman. She regularly makes quips about Darling’s blackness and can’t understand how her father could possibly be in love with her. Lola comes across quite ignorant and low-key racist at times, but I soon realised that it’s more complex than it seems. Edwards did a great job with this aspect of Lola’s character because she delves into where these prejudices came from in a non-judgemental way. Edwards’ exploration of issues such as racism, xenophobia and identity is one of the book’s strengths for me. Darling is subjected to blatant racism as well as more subtle microaggressions throughout the novel. The author realistically portrays how racial discrimination can take its toll emotionally and mentally on non-white people living in a predominantly white society.
“Hey, some of Dad’s favourite singers and US presidents are suddenly black! He actually put on reggae the other day. Flipping reggae, WTF? Since when has he ever liked that?” – Lola
Darling tends to pity Lola and attributes her stepdaughter’s behaviour to the fact that she lost her mother at a young age. This only makes Darling want to nurture and care for Lola even more. Darling often reiterates that caring for others is who she is and what she does. It’s why she’s a nurse. She is eager (one might even say desperate) to make it work with her stepdaughter. One way she attempts to connect with Thomas and Lola is through food. For example, on the most challenging days when Lola is at her most difficult and rebellious, Darling decides that the best remedies are her homemade Jamaican dishes. Even the way she prepares and cooks food for others is always handled with so much love and care.
Personally, I’d have liked to hear a bit more from Thomas. Lola and Darling’s love for him is arguably the only thing they have in common. At times it seemed as though they were both trying to make him see how crooked and untrustworthy the other one was. It felt like he was just… there but this wasn’t necessarily a dealbreaker for me.
Overall, I highly recommend Darling. It’s a gripping, shocking and well-paced thriller that kept me guessing all the way through. I liked the writing but it was the character development and the clever twists and turns that did it for me. I could not put this book down. Lola and Darling are two extremely memorable and interesting female characters. Like all human beings, they are flawed and complex, therefore it’s basically impossible to categorise them as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. A must-read for fans of political and psychological thrillers.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Darling is published by Fourth Estate and can be purchased from Amazon and all good bookshops.