[Book Review] Gitte Tamar’s Shadows That Speak
Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Unreliable narrators are one of literature’s greatest tools. Whether we know they’re unreliable from the start or it’s planted like a trail of crumbs leading deep into the shadows, such characters having control of the story forces us to reckon with the limits of a narrative’s truth and our own willingness to believe what we’re told. Gitte Tamar’s Shadows That Speak presents us with an unusual twofold case: we know the narrator is unreliable and mad in much the same way of those in Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” and “Cask of Amontillado”, but the narrator believes himself completely sane, guided by the sure and bedeviled hand of the shadowy Father. That is, Daniel can see things even the audience is not privy to, which lead him to believe in his own sanity while acknowledging that we may find him otherwise.
Gitte Tamar’s veneration for the genre is apparent with every turn of phrase, and Daniel Manley’s particular style of narration struck me as an impressive cocktail of Poe, Wilde, and American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. With a pedigree like that to back him, it is entirely possible the frequently self-absorbed tone may not be to every reader’s taste, but if 19th Century madmen are your thing, Shadows That Speak is a propulsive read.
This relatively short work of darkness and societal violence is not much interested in building suspense — our narrator is simply too involved with his brilliance to not divulge his plans to us as soon as he concocts them — but it nonetheless envelops readers in a sense of near-unshakeable discomfort. Indeed, for a while I thought this might be a novel chronicling the path of a sort of Jack the Ripper; a man intent on cleaning up society not by ridding the world of the less fortunate but of the overly greedy upper-class. After all, when Daniel Manley isn’t expounding upon his own physical prowess, he has quite the sharp tongue for the upper echelon of social circles; some of the novel’s best lines come from his descriptions and rationales for how he targets his victims.
Perhaps what makes Shadows so successfully unsettling is its steadfast dedication to living in the perspective of the hunter. At no point is there a true break to someone else’s view, rather we are treated with the constant reminder that everyone around our narrator is a helpless victim with false knowledge of situations he himself has orchestrated. He controls not only our narrative but that of an entire family’s lives, leaving them all twisting in the wind until they come crashing down right where he and Father deem they should be.
Tamar’s goal of exploring mental illness through the lens of a thriller is successful in the way Poe, Wilde, Thomas Harris are, in that the villain is not interested in garnering sympathy from the reader so much as he is in painting himself in a light he deems the most favorable to himself and the demon which controls him. Interestingly, there does come a rather surprising moment of tension between Daniel Manley as he has constructed himself for the first three quarters of the novel and how he views the control dynamics when it comes time for him to obtain the destiny he felt so sure he was meant for. There is no fighting of the mental illness here, only complete embrace, and what that means for Daniel’s actions in this case sets him as a clear villain against social norms forging a class battle with a world that would cast him on the street.
Talking plot without spoilers is virtually impossible for Shadows given that it more or less dives right in with no buildup of suspense, but that is far from a bad thing. It simply means the only way to discover a modern-made old school madman is to curl up with this haunting little number on a cold and rainy day with a fire burning just enough to make the corner shadows dance.
I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the publisher and BookSirens for the opportunity.