Something in the Dark: A Review of Natasha Carthew’s ‘The Light that Gets Lost’

cover72925-mediumThe Light That Gets Lost by Natasha Carthew, published today by Bloomsbury, has one of the most dramatic openings of any novel I’ve read recently, beginning with the horrifying murder of Trey’s parents, which he witnesses from his cupboard hiding place. The novel then jumps to eight years later, with Trey being transported to a mysterious prison camp with revenge occupying his every thought. It’s a novel which reminded me simultaneously of The Maze Runner and Prison Break: the former echoed in the initially strange-sounding language of the teenagers at he camp, and the latter because of the revelation that Trey is in this strange place by design.
Carthew’s style is deceptively simple, effectively revealing Trey’s state of mind with occasionally far more complex prose.  In the opening, which is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book in its subject matter, Carthew emphasises Trey’s innocence by calling our attention to the horror of what he has witnessed and contrasting it with the child’s vocabulary, point of view and inability to comprehend what has happened, in stating “the sticky was growing and it branched out like creeping fingers into the fancy rug and the boy shouted for her not to go but it was too late, the bed had her.”

Something in the dark claimed the boy that night.  A needling hook of skulking roots that pulled him towards some other place; an underhanded, underground grasp. A little demon settling someplace deep inside, a flickerflame moving, growing in size.

Trey is a victim of circumstance, orphaned at a young age and bounced from foster home to law enforcement facility; he seeks revenge for all this, driven by the “demon” who seems to be calling the shots at the outset. Trey’s anger is evident as he considers that “he wasn’t like these other boys. His life had been set upon by circumstances beyond his control. He wasn’t bad for the kick of things; he’d grown bad like bacteria on foul meat;” his family taken from him so soon leads him to wish “he’d paid more attention to the stop-clock minutes of his short life, filed memories into storage for later.”  There is much of Trey’s struggle which is universal – the desperate wish to turn back time – and the character and his actions should make The Light that Gets Lost a popular choice for teenagers, seeking an exaggerated mirror of their own problems in fiction.

He wanted to add colour to the black and white memory but his inner demon was forcing itself on to him, like always when happy was about to settle, the devil-dog came racing.

Like The Maze Runner in its plot as well as its prose, The Light that Gets Lost begins with its protagonist disorientated in a strange new place, seeking a place within the hierarchy; before long, the status quo is disrupted and Trey, like Dashner’s Thomas, is forced to confront unpleasant truths. The Light that Gets Lost will, I hope, find an audience among fans of that series: perhaps principally, the boys whose parents desperately ask for book recommendations for their sons at my school’s parents’ evenings.  There seems to be a dystopian aspect in the background in Carthew’s novel, with scattered references to a society in anarchy, but, refreshingly, this is not the focus of the story.

The Light that Gets Lost is a really intriguing book; Carthew immerses her reader in a strange yet familiar world and surprises us throughout.  I’ll be sneaking a copy of it onto the shelves of my classroom library in the future.

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