In The Winter Dark by Tim Winton (1988) 132 p.
I haven’t read anything by Tim Winton (who comprises one third of the Holy Trinity of Australian writers, alongside Patrick White and Peter Carey) since high school, when I was obliged to force my way through Cloudstreet for English Lit. I suspect I’d like Cloudstreet a lot more now that I’m older and appreciate good literature, but I do still suspect Tim Winton of being similar to Cormac McCarthy – an excellent author, but one whose novels all tend to be pretty much the same.
In The Winter Dark caught my eye because of its horror themes:
Night falls. In a lonely valley called the Sink, four people prepare for a quiet evening. Then in his orchard, Murray Jaccob sees a moving shadow. Across the swamp, his neighbour Ronnie watches her lover leave and feels her baby roll inside her. And on the verandah of the Stubbses’ house, a small dog is torn screaming from its leash by something unseen. Nothing will be the same again.
Winton mentions the darkness itself quite a lot throughout the book, including the quote in the epigraph, and I was half-expecting him to pull something metaphysical. He doesn’t. As in all good horror literature, the monster is never quite seen or explained, but as huge amounts of livestock are found mangled and mutilated, there is no doubt as to its tangible existence.
Winton does, however, focus more on the characters than anything else; this is a literary novella with horror elements, not vice versa. The climax was somewhat contrived, and while he manages a foreboding note here and there, there aren’t many parts in the book that are actually frightening. It’s not a bad book at all, but it’s not particularly worth seeking out either.
In any case, it did bring me up to 25 books before the mid-point of the year. With luck I may be able to beat 2008’s 50-book streak.