Some books defy pigeonholing in traditional genres – take Tim Vowler’s dark and unsettling debut novel with its tantalising and atmospheric blend of mystery, suspense, crime and powerful psychological introspection.
A lecturer in creative writing at the University of Plymouth, Vowler has already impressed with his prize-winning short story collection, The Method & Other Stories, but he enters new territory here in a subtle, tightly woven exploration of the fallout from sexual violence.
Using nature versus nurture and the family axis as its recurring motifs, What Lies Within is an emotional rollercoaster story which asks difficult questions about society, relationships and female sexuality… and all set against the wild beauty of Dartmoor.
But what makes Vowler’s enthralling novel so remarkable is that we view the world from the inner sanctum of a woman, sharing her hopes and fears and the fluctuating emotions that inform her actions.
Anna and her family live in a remote farmhouse surrounded by the haunting beauty of Dartmoor and have always been close to nature. Anna has her own pottery business at home, her husband Robert is a local ranger and her two children, 16-year-old Paul and 12-year-old Megan, attend nearby schools.
It should be the perfect place to grow up with its ‘wondrous landscape filling days’ but Paul’s inexplicable flashes of rage are creating ripples of tension and his adolescence seems to have ‘contaminated the beauty.’
When a convict escapes from nearby Dartmoor prison, their isolation suddenly begins to feel more claustrophobic than free for Anna and fearing for the children’s safety, her behaviour becomes increasingly irrational.
Why is she so distant from her kind and caring husband Robert, and why does she suspect something sinister about Paul’s mood swings when all teenagers have their difficult phases...
Meanwhile, a young idealistic teacher has just started her first job, determined to ‘make a difference.’ But when she is brutally attacked by one of her students, her version of events is doubted by even those closest to her.
Struggling to deal with the terrible consequences, she does what she can to move on and start afresh.
As the two narratives converge, the tension builds to a devastating dénouement, shattering all firmly-held beliefs in the meaning of family.
Harnessing extraordinary empathy, credibility and sensitivity, Vowler takes us to the heart of a woman’s dilemma in a story that crackles with tension and high emotion whilst his evocation of Dartmoor’s wild landscape and the reality of ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’ add impressive power and presence.
An intelligent and thoughtful debut…
(Headline, paperback, £7.99)