CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 20 . . . . January 27, 2012
Darkest Light is the sequel to Hiromi Goto’s Half World. Melanie returned from Half World in the earlier novel, and it seemed balance had been restored, but now the nightmare begins again. It is 16 years later, and Melanie’s brother, Gee, is the focus of attention. Gee was adopted as a baby and has never been told the truth about his family. Compelled to find out, he leaves his grandmother and his usual life in order to go to Half World and confront his own past. Gee does not face the journey alone but is accompanied by two very unlikely helpers: a talking Cat and a surly Neo Goth girl named Cracker.
This novel again uses Goto’s settings of three separate realms through which all humans must pass. On earth, all exist in the Realm of Flesh. After death, all move to Half World, a sort of purgatory where they are forced to endlessly endure life’s suffering. Those caught in Half World come to understand that, by eating other creatures, they gain strength and energy and can temporarily postpone their suffering. Eventually, however, they realize this is merely a delay and they begin their time in Half World and the suffering which goes with it all over again. Finally, they pass through suffering and into the Realm of Spirit. The cycle never ends, thus keeping all three realms in balance.
Goto‘s novel encompasses horror and fantasy and mythology, taking her readers into a nightmarish world of rats and eels, creatures with rotting flesh and the odours of putrid decay. Not only do Gee and Cracker enter this world, they are pursued by demon-like characters, named Ilanna and Karu, who are intent on capturing Gee and forcing him to remain forever in the midst of Half World trauma, surrounded by threats and violence.
The obvious theme of the novel is a coming-of-age story where Gee, an unhappy and unpopular teen, faces critical choices and must learn to be strong and confident in his decisions. But Goto does not give her readers the ‘happy ever after’ ending they might expect. Gee weighs his options at the end of the novel and knows what is right both for him and his family and his friend, Cracker. This reviewer won’t spoil Goto’s finale.
Gee is faced with more than the evil and temptations of the world around him. There is also a malicious voice in his head which continually tempts him with bad options. For instance when Cracker hesitates during one scene in the book, Gee hears “Ditch her, the darkness inside him suggested. Pitch her over the side before she causes you trouble.” ( p. 135) It is one thing to be a superhero and fight the forces of evil but quite a different scenario when one perceives the potential for evil comes from within
Along with the quest for self-discovery, Gee and Cracker are both looking for family in Half World. Gee doesn’t know anything about his parents but feels the answers lie in Half World and is determined to find them. Cracker was unable to prevent her sister Klara from committing suicide. Perhaps by finding her sister, Cracker feels, she may also find some measure of atonement. Thus Goto deals with similar themes to her earlier novel: loss, grief, the strength of family ties, and love.
In all of The Three Realms, darkness and light exist. In all people, darkness and light exist. Goto seems to be telling her readers that it is only by delving into the darkest places that one may eventually find something approaching enlightenment. Readers who are willing to accompany her on the voyage to the ugly and terrible Half World will appreciate the hopeful signs of light at the end of the horrific tunnel.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.