“Romancing The Dark In The City Of Light” by Ann Jacobus

I requested this book from NetGalley for no particular reason other than that it looked interesting. It was a peculiar read, because for most of the book, I hated it. I disliked the majority of the characters, various scenes made me thoroughly uncomfortable, and above all, it was not a cheerful book. But by the time I got to the end, my perspective had changed somewhat.

romancing the dark

Publication date: October 6th, 2015.

This is a character-driven book. Summer, the protagonist, is depressed and suicidal and an alcoholic – even if she won’t admit that to herself. Expelled from a whole bunch of schools, she’s trying to get through one last semester at an international school in Paris. (She needs to graduate from school and college in order to get her inheritance from her grandpa; it’s a bit complicated.)

Because it’s so much more about the characters and their development than about any sort of plot, I’m going to focus on them.

Summer

  • I did not like Summer. Not for most of the book. As someone who has been depressed, I get that it sucks, and it’s super hard to be a nice person when you have no energy whatsoever and can’t see the point in anything. I was prepared to cut her some slack. But she’s shallow, and unpleasant, and she makes terrible life choices. Which, granted, is something that people who are depressed often do. Even so.
  • Summer thinks that if she can find love, everything will be okay. If she just finds somebody whose hand she can hold, everything will sort itself out. She’s actually obsessive about this, and while it’s a sign of her unhealthy approach to, well, everything, I grew impatient with her as she constantly neglected concrete things that’d make things better (like schoolwork) to chase after boys…
  • … one of whom wasn’t really a boy so much. Kurt. Let’s talk about him.

Kurt

  • Kurt seems like an unsuitable older boy who leads Summer into bad situations, but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s far worse than that. All the places he takes her are places for committing suicide, and he keeps planting the idea in her head. Even though he’s gross and rapey and awful, she keeps going back to him, answering his calls, letting him in.
  • At this point I should give you a trigger warning. Okay, if there’s one for the whole book that’s “tw: suicide”, this one is “tw: sexual assault”. Because there is an awful scene in a cinema which made me feel thoroughly uncomfortable.
  • Actually, every single scene with Kurt made my skin crawl. I wanted to yell at Summer GET AWAY FROM HIM HE’S AWFUL. But she couldn’t see that until too late, and even then, she didn’t make good life choice.
  • As the book draws to a close, though, we learn that there’s a reason for this. I won’t spoil it for you, but basically, Kurt isn’t at all what he seems to Summer.

Moony

  • And now we have to talk about Moony because he was the only character I actually liked. No, more than that. I loved him. Moony is a precious child. Moony is a cinnamon roll who must be protected at all costs. MOONY IS AWESOME.
  • So Moony (his real name is Munir) was seriously injured in an accident when he was like twelve and has been suffering ever since. He’s disabled and in pain all the time. But he’s also the reason Summer eventually gets herself together.
  • Moony proves that there’s some truth to her obsession with finding someone who loves her as though that’ll solve everything. Loving and being loved by Moony doesn’t solve all her problems. But it gives her the wake-up call she needs to start solving them for herself, and it also gives her a reason to do it. Even when it’s not romantic between them. His friendship is amazing.
  • He goes with her to AA meetings. (He persuades her to go in the first place.) On a motorscooter. Even though only one of his legs really works.
  • Also just everything about Moony is amazing.
  • I really love Moony, okay.

On the whole, I didn’t find reading this book a very pleasant experience. Not because it was badly written or whatever. Instead because it filled me full of frustration that Summer was spiralling into a whole pit full of bad choices and I couldn’t help her and I wanted to yell at her and I wanted to drag her back and I couldn’t because I’m just the reader.

I think that was the idea. But even so, it made it a rather difficult read.

Also, as someone who has struggled with depression (though not with alcoholism or anything) – and as someone who deals with chronic pain – there was a lot in this book that I related to. I relate to that feeling that everything takes more energy than I’ve got to give. I relate to feeling like it’s not even worth the effort it takes. I do. It scares the hell out of me, but I know how that feels.

I have no idea how to rate this book. If I’m basing my ratings on enjoyment, it would get quite a low one. I found it difficult to read, and also frustrating. If I’m basing it on how well the book did what it was trying to do, I guess it would get something higher. The writing’s pretty good. There are some great descriptions. But I didn’t find myself enjoying it, you know?

So I’m not going to rate it at all. It’s way too subjective for that.

But I will give you a few quotes from it. Including some humorous ones to show it’s not all depressing.

He examined the boxed set of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy on her dresser. “Nice.”
“It was my dad’s. I think he secretly wanted to be Aragorn.”
“Don’t we all.”

What’s hard is to describe how she feels lately. If she could only use one word, it would be ‘gray’. Or one phrase, Trapped in a giant cobweb of blah. Nothing is exciting. Not parties, not clubs, not movies or TV, not new clothes or shoes or a convertible. Not even Disneyland Paris.

He holds her gently and then she relaxes against him and rests her cheek on his broad shoulder. Breathes in his wheaty-ness and the yum smell of that lime shampoo, his body so warm and solid against hers. It feels like home. She and Moony twinned, a zygotic cell just split, at the center of Paris, and the world, and the universe.

“I don’t even like him, swear to god, but he has this … hold – that’s what scares me.” She glances at Moony. He frowns like he’s trying to figure something out.
“Don’t see him again. Anyone hurts you, disrespects you, should be banned. And punished.”
“I haven’t seen this side of you.”
“Can still kick butt. With walking implements.”

So yeah. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’ve recently been depressed or suicidal, because it might be triggering, but it was an interesting and thought-provoking book.

Buy ‘Romancing the Dark in the City of Light’ on Amazon (UK)

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