I really wanted to like this book– and for the most part, I did. With the potential to be a barnstorming novel discussing everything from the obstruction of justice to outright abuse, These Violent Delights definitely packs a punch from the first page.
It’s powerful stuff. At the start of the story, we’re introduced to Jane March, newspaper reporter extraordinaire, who is approach by her intern, Caryn, who has written an article on the abuse she received at the hands of her English teacher, Dr Copeland, whilst at prestigious boarding school Windermere. The article is published, and Namkung takes us all the way through the legal case, exploring the ramifications everybody involved experiences: from fellow victims Sasha and Eva, who both cope with what’s happened in different ways, to the way in which the school handles it.
The things that happen in parts of this book beggar belief, and it’s all the more shocking that Namkung draws on real-life events for almost all the events in here. That anger is present in every syllable of her writing, creating a novel that does draw you in as Namkung covers the entire case from beginning to end, giving you a fly-on-the-wall approach to the entire thing.
It’s fascinating, but her forensic examination of the case comes at the expense of her characters, and character development. Her characters are angry, yes, but it feels more like her anger coming through the page at us: and the huge leaps in time between key parts of the case leaves you disoriented and confused.
As a result, we never really get the chance to bond with the characters- they’re presented almost abstractly, like a series of facts rather than a personality in their own right. You do feel for them, and you’re rooting for them to succeed, but you don’t care about them as people, and that, in turn, makes us care less about what happens to them by the end of the novel- especially when a particularly tragic event happens near the end.
That said, this is a bold and unflinching look at a very uncomfortable subject that does need to be talked about. The coverage of the case is fascinating, and the abuser at the centre of it all- Copeland- is a dark void around which the story revolves. As we learn more about him, the more repulsive he becomes- and the more unbelievable the school’s cover-ups, and the defence by school parents, becomes. The fallout is interesting, horrible and very sad: it’s a necessary read, but not a nice one.
Book cover taken from Goodreads.