Relationships are strange things and, when we find ourselves in the right place with the right someone, at what feels like the right time, we can be sucked into them with a level of abandon that our more commonsense selves would not recognise. Cathie is a prime candidate. She is an intelligent woman who craves adventure. She cannot see herself living the life her mother has accepted, because she has seen that there are opportunities out in the wider world and she wants to grasp them. So when a whirlwind romance with soldier and artist Herbert Jackson comes along, and he promises her everything she has ever dreamed of, any doubts that others raise about the sense of running headlong into marriage with someone she doesn't know are cast aside.
“What We Did in the Dark” by Ajay Close is a fictionalised account of the real Catherine Carswell’s first marriage. It is a poignant tale of lives lived in the wrong time, of characters formed by life experiences that have catastrophic effects on their future selves and the people who become involved with them. Cathie is at first whisked off her feet by the handsome Jackson. But as they depart for their honeymoon in Europe, the realisation starts to dawn on her that her new husband may not be the man she believes him to be. He is violently jealous and delusional, to the extent that Cathie soon ends up fighting for her freedom; and then for her life.
The narrative switches at points through the book between timeframes. The reader is given insights into Jackson’s school life and his time in the military to build the bigger picture and, in part, to help explain his bizarre behaviour. As the story unfolds, we see Cathie become at first bemused, then unsettled, and finally terrified of her controlling husband. When she eventually returns to the UK she starts to piece together the background to his life and unearths the truth that Jackson’s family and friends have held back from her, that he was already a broken man when she met him.
Whilst this is a story set in the early years of the 20th Century, the tale it tells of the hidden realities of Jackson and Cathie's marriage feels equally relevant to those in dangerous relationships today. Cathie’s search for an understanding of what she has done wrong, her trying to work out how she has provoked her husband, and her taking some of the blame for his cruelty towards her, will all be as familiar to too many women, and men, living in violent relationships today. The reader is pulled between trying to justify Jackson’s bizarre and dangerous behaviour against the background of his early life, and total horror that his young wife is trapped by circumstances that she can do nothing to influence. “What We Did in the Dark” is beautifully written, and whilst also hard hitting and very graphic in its detail, it is a compelling read.