After the Silence by Louise O’ Neill is published with riverrun (Quercus imprint). It is described as a ‘bold, brilliant, disturbing new novel‘ and is set in an area that is all too familiar to the author, and to myself, West Cork. Louise O’Neill is a well known voice in literature in recent years, writing and speaking about taboo subjects and highlighting very important issues of body image and consent. After the Silence is a slight departure for Louise O’ Neill as it is a twisty thriller but it still does raise some very relevant and important societal issues.
A fascinating article recently in the Irish Examiner reveals the inspiration for After the Silence. Louise O’Neill refers to the West Cork podcast, a 13-part audible series delving deep into the murder of French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier ‘who was murdered days before Christmas in 1996, her broken body discovered at the edge of her property near the town of Schull in West Cork, Ireland. The rest remains a mystery.’
Louise O’Neill became hooked on the series and the seed was planted.
“I started the first episode that afternoon and by 2am, I was in the middle of a full-on binge. My eyes open in the dark as I listened to the eerie sound of a low wind whistling, its evocation of a barren, lonely landscape where no one would hear you screaming for help. A sensation of dread curdling in my stomach but something else, too, something more familiar. That same feeling of being seen, the one I’d experienced as a child.
This podcast was making headlines all around the world, it was being cited as the next big thing in true crime, and it had been created in and of my homeplace.”
– Louise O’Neill, The Irish Examiner
Inisrún, an island off West Cork, is now home to the Kinsella family. Keelin Kinsella, a local girl, married Henry Kinsella, a man of notorious wealth from a hotel dynasty. The hotel group had been looking to have a presence in the local area and the island was to be the perfect location for an artist’s retreat. The locals were all paid well to move into new housing so the new structures could be built. Soon Inisrún became a haven for artists and like minded creatives looking for a place to escape the madness of mainland life but it also hosted extravagant and hedonistic parties under the roof of Henry and Keelin Kinsella.
Keelin had originally left Inisrún some years previously but had returned to the island after a particularly tough few years. Henry Keelin was English and wealthy. He was considered an outsider. Keelin never in her wildest dreams imagined that someone like her would attract the eye of this dashing foreigner but she did and they soon married, establishing themselves as a couple with an arresting architecturally designed modern home, one that caught the attention of all who came to the island. The trappings of a very wealthy lifestyle was at odds with this rugged landscape and the locals never fully accepted the Kinsellas but the visitors brought money to the island, something that was always welcomed. Everything was to change when the body of a local young woman, Nessa Crowley, was discovered on the grounds of the Kinsella home following a wild party. The night was stormy. Nobody could get on or off the island. The killer was among them.
That was ten years ago and life has changed for the Kinsellas. The truth behind Nessa Crowley’s death was never unearthed and it has remained a shadow over Inisrún. Friends have become enemies and Keelin’s once beautiful home has now become her prison. No longer welcome on the island but with nowhere to go, Keelin’s life is unrecognisable from before Nessa’s death. But this is all about to change as two Australian documentary makers arrive on the island to uncover the real truth about that fateful night. Will the secrets of Inisrún finally be revealed?
Chapters are divided into then and now, bringing the reader back in time as very slowly the events leading up to that fateful night unfold. Keelin and Henry’s relationship is put under the microscopic eye of the documentary crew with Louise O’ Neill exposing a very sinister tale.
I did have a small issue with the Irish language scattered throughout the book. I am by no means a fluent speaker but it all felt very deliberate, very gratuitous, very staged. Yes the islands off West Cork are associated with the Gaeltacht, where the Irish language is promoted and encouraged, but was it necessary for this story? Personally I think not. Also having very recently visited the islands that inspired Inisrún, I did struggle slightly with the reality of such an obvious lavish lifestyle, as portrayed by Henry and Keelin Kinsella. Personal quibbles I know but I did feel the need to mention both, as unfortunately they did impact my reading experience.
Louise O’Neill writes passionately about issues that she feels very strongly about. Emotional abuse is a theme that runs through the book and, although marketed as a psychological thriller, it is the descriptions of this insidious abuse that long stays in my mind. After the Silence is a very claustrophobic read, at times frustrating and other times very unsettling. A tragic tale highlighting the impact of a very toxic relationship and of course a tale of murder….
(c) Swirl and Thread
Order your copy online here.