A Dark Dividing
By: Sarah Rayne
Published date: January, 2005
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
This is a dark story, with many horrors, and without much opportunity for happy endings or redemption in many cases. That said, it is also a fascinating mystery and exploration of human relationships and the damage that they can so often cause.
A Dark Dividing follows the stories of two sets of conjoined twins, born nearly a century apart, who lead parallel lives in many ways that are not fully obvious until the story’s end. Not surprisingly, separation in many forms haunts those stories. Viola and Sorrell, born in an era of post-Victorian freak shows, and Simone and Sonia, born in a time when conjoinment can with luck require only surgery and medical monitoring, are two stories followed by journalist Harry Fitzglen. Believing himself initially to be after a fairly unimportant human interest piece, he soon finds himself in the middle of story that spans generations and families and that centers on a terrifying and abusive former workhouse, Mortmain House.
This book is full of stories within stories (and mysteries within mysteries), but the mysteries make up only part of what makes it a gripping read. The mysteries do make this an interesting read, full of enough twists and turns to entertain and surprise even the most cynical readers in at least some places, but it is fundamentally a story not about mysteries but about relationships. Whether those relationships are between families, friends, lovers, or acquaintances, they are explored in ways that are fascinating and show the damage that can happen between two people. There are some hideously ugly relationships between the covers of this book, and they drive the plot as much as any possible plot point. Specifically, marriage and romantic relationships are nearly universally horrifying, full of deceit, manipulation, and contempt. Despite this, not everything is dire and dreadful, and the few people who are able to connect in a redeeming way drive the resolution of the mystery in surprising ways.
For a book about relationships, following the lives of conjoined twins, the book oddly ignores the relationships between siblings. There are reasons that Rayne may have chosen to do this, including the symbolic value of connection and disconnection at odds, but ultimately I do think it is a weakness to the book. It is hard to care really care about many of the characters in the book, because while the bad guys are clearly bad, there’s not a lot there to humanize the good guys. The times that I wanted to put the book down (and honestly, there weren’t many of them) usually happened because I was frustrated with the coldness of the characterizations and the unknown endings to many plotlines.
Despite that, this book was a compelling read, successfully frightening in places and well-paced. A fairly minor aspect of the book is the use of photography and of creative writing to create distinct images that go beyond just what is physically seen. Rayne is very good at this in her writing; there is a distinct atmosphere that sucks the reader in and makes the places in this story feel real in a way that horror fiction and mystery fiction do not always manage. If you have an interest in the weird, in stories about the ways people can hurt each other, or in how memories can permeate the atmosphere of a place, Sarah Rayne is worth a read. I know that I’ll be reading more from her in the future.