IN DARKNESS, SHADOWS BREATHE
BY CATHERINE CAVENDISH
PUBLISHED BY FLAME TREE PRESS
AVAILABLE JANUARY 2021
This year, I’ve started reading Cavendish for the first time. In the last nine months or so, I’ve completed several short stories, a novella (The Malan Witch), and this upcoming novel release (In Darkness, Shadows Breathe). In a lot of ways, Cavendish reminds me of Campbell, or what little of him I’ve read so far (a few novels, though he has many); she has a timeless narrative, polite and gothic in atmosphere. So far, my experience is that she deals mostly in hauntings, tame ones in comparison to what I usually read in the horror community. As such, her appeal can be mainstreamed, as it is far less violent and disturbing.
Her latest novel, In Darkness, Shadows Breathe, is very well-written, but also features some hiccups along the way. Looking through the reviews posted by others, it seems that most readers were in agreement that some of the pacing was a bit slow and that the story left some confusion, what with the amount of characters hopping in and out during a nonlinear timeline. I can agree with all that. However, there were several areas that Cavendish did extremely well, and I think those areas deserve spotlighting. For one, the author has dived deep into her own life in presenting Vanessa’s character, who is undergoing cancer treatment. Not only is it personal and descriptive, it’s sad and harrowing. Cavendish has been to hell and back, and I think this novel reflects that. In a sense, it reminds me of how Dreamcatcher is an evident connection for Stephen King and his near-death accident; in it, he constantly goes into the character’s head for escape, something King did while in recovery. The novel was strange and long and difficult to follow at times, but so was his experience with life at the time. I think In Darkness, Shadows Breathe is like that for Cavendish.
The writing is what steals me away in this novel. I think Cavendish really shines in this regard, even if the story does feel a bit jumbled at times. At the same time, it can be expected, considering the nonlinear timeline in which you have characters passing to and from past and present (or lack thereof, according to the story). Nevertheless, I can understand the frustration this caused others, as it did the same to me at times. And I also agree that the first part of the story – following Carol – felt underdeveloped. I would go as far as to say the novel would have been stronger as a long novella that removed Part 1 completely. It isn’t necessary, as all pertinent details to Carol’s story return during Vanessa’s. I partly wonder if that section was written at a later point in an effort to make this story into a novel length for publishing.
Complaints aside, I enjoyed this title more than The Malan Witch. I felt like it was more dramatic and personal, as well as haunting. Can you imagine being torn to and from different time periods, especially when one involves the pain of being an experiment for mad doctors? Even if Cavendish doesn’t ever go bloody, the themes are frightening. To be going through serious medical recovery and to be haunted at the same time … well, maybe they are one in the same. Maybe that is what Cavendish was going for here. And I liked it.
Highlights: Personal for the writer … dramatic and atmospheric … well-written … involves scary themes without any reliance on blood and gore
Shadows: Can be a bit slow at times … the first part of the book is largely unnecessary and a little underdeveloped … can get confusing following the characters and changing time periods
For fans of: Horror that puts its themes and atmosphere at the forefront, rather than supplying copious amounts of blood, gore, sex, and language
Takeaway: In Darkness, Shadows Breathe is a good way to start 2021, because it’s a novel centering around recovery, something the world can relate to right now. Cavendish shines in the ways she’s connected to the story, making herself vulnerable to not only her readers, but to the ghosts that haunt her.
Would I read this author again? Yes