Review: After the Silence by Louise O’Neill

I do love a good psychological thriller and After the Silence by Irish author Louise O’Neill is definitely that. Set on a small Irish island called Inisrun, off the coast of Cork, our narrator Keelin Kinsella is a local island girl. Ten years ago, another local (and very popular) girl, Nessa Crowley was murdered at Keelin’s birthday party. No one was ever arrested for the crime. Now two Australian documentary makers want to try and discover what really happened…

After the Silence Louise O'Neill book review

Opening sentence: There were three of them, in the beginning, and we called them the Crowley Girls.

A little back story

The affluent and powerful Kinsella family own hotels and decide to build Misty Hill – an artists’ retreat – on Inisrun island, which changes the whole dynamic of the place and causes unrest amongst the locals. Local girl Keelin ends up marrying one of Kinsella family – Henry – causing her to be shunned by her fellow locals for siding with the enemy.

Henry and Keelin have a daughter, Evie together; a total daddy’s girl, Keelin’s relationship with her is fractured. Keelin also has a son, Alex from her first husband, but Henry embraces him as his own. Keelin’s first husband was abusive to her, and she had to leave the marriage to save her life.

The locals have made no secret of the fact they think Keelin and Henry – especially Henry – were involved in Nessa’s death, so the couple have been living in the shadow of these accusations for ten years. Henry sees the documentary as a chance to clear their name, so agrees to be interviewed for it.

There were so few people who knew exactly what had happened that night, and one of them was dead.

Dragging up the past

Noah and Jake are the documentary makers and start methodically interviewing everyone who knew Nessa. This means nuggets of information are slowly revealed as After the Silence enticingly drip-feeds you its story.

A key theme in the book is domestic abuse – from physical to psychological control and gaslighting. This can make for some hard-to-read sections, but it captures the awfulness of the situation. Keelin’s relationships with both her husbands are explored and she is such a complex, interesting character. She hasn’t had the best opportunities in life and is ultimately, just trying to survive. She also – tantalisingly – has a lot of secrets, that she keeps you hanging on for until the end.

She imagined them taking handfuls of her secrets, scattering them to the wind like ashes. She would never be able to find them again and put them back where they belonged.

Randomly, this is not actually the first book I’ve read this year set on a remote Irish island. Scenes of a Graphic Nature by Caroline O’Donoghue was set on one too. Also with its own set of local whispers and sinister secrets.

Very atmospheric, After the Silence is a psychological thriller but with a slow, steady pace that thrums through it, making sure your attention is held, those secrets keep tumbling out and those pages keep turning.

  • Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
  • Published by Quercus 3rd September 2020;
  • 400 pages;
  • My rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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