Darkness Runs Deep, Claire McNeel

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Growing up in any rural community in the 1970's meant a LOT of talk about football. The boys that played were always the hero's, the girls that watched never mentioned, except if they were connected to the tuck shop at the ground in some way. Or cleaning the change rooms, and the toilets, and running around driving football players here and there. (Well to be fair they still weren't much mentioned no matter how much of the actual work they did). Needless to say I have a deep, abiding, all consuming loathing of all things "aussie football", and the relentless cascade of bullshit that seems to be published about it isn't making that ease up, even after all these years.

Freely admit I should not have read DARKNESS RUNS DEEP, and to be perfectly honest I've no idea why I persevered. Perhaps because there were glimpses of a story underneath the football talk - one about small towns, and an horrific crime that remains unclear for way too long in this novel. The town of Gerandaroo is trapped by a moment in 1993, when a crime happened on New Year's Eve. Eight months later, Bess, returns home and finds herself dared into forming a women's footy team, after the men's team was banned from playing in 1993, along with the nearby town of Denby. Women start to show up (couldn't help but get a feeling of people emerging from cornfields...), but on the downside cue a lot of whinging blokes, banging on about women knowing their places, a lot of disapproving, some parental angst and a lot of noise about whatever it is that football means to people.

The football talk in this one is strong, and the way that the team is pulled together probably rings true, although to be fair, I should have chucked the whole thing once that team started to become the focus. It's not my thing. It induces nausea.

Around the edges of the football talk there's obviously been an horrendous crime committed in this town, it gets hinted at a lot, but frustratingly never seems to be fully explained. The point of the book really does seem to be exploring a lot of emotional issues - the hurt feelings and resentments, the sexual discrimination and blatant misogyny, and it's no surprise to discover that all the crap that was going down in the 70's and 80's continued into the 90's. Of course the story is also about the idea that sport can bring all the women of the town together, despite their differences, and in the face of some pretty pathetic carry on.

Whatever the past crime (and for me, this was brushed so thin I could see too much football palaver through it), the story here is about redemption and moving forward and the power of sport to bring people together. Which, after all these years, I'm sort of getting (thinking the Matilda's and the Aussie Women's Cricket Team), but then again, I don't. When it comes to small town carry on, all the hero worship, and all the "but he plays footy" forgiving of appalling behaviour, there's a hell of a lot more clearing of the decks, and a shitload of truth telling that needs to go on before I'd believe that for a nanosecond.

As always, whenever the vehicle is contentious, DARKNESS RUNS DEEP is going to be a YMMV read. 

Year of Publication

In the darkest hour, a blood-soaked teenager flees the rural Gerandaroo football oval. Eight months later, Bess, a young teacher, returns home to Gerandaroo. A childhood game of dare with her former best-friend forces Bess to form a women's footy team to play against Denby, a rival town. Bess reluctantly recruits players, but the team has to contend with hostile locals - including Beth's own father. Will this help the small community to come back together - or will it be the final thing that blows everything apart? As tensions in the town boil over, so too do resentments and secrets and violence that have been previously held tight and close. Darkly told and breathlessly compelling, Darkness Runs Deep is a striking new Australian crime novel about the best and worst of who we are.

Review Darkness Runs Deep, Claire McNeel
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, March 21, 2024
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