Book Nook: After the Silence by Louise O’Neill

Image Credit: Samaneh Sadeghi Marasht

Aoife Rooney delves into After the Silence and describes her favourite spot to enjoy it.

What to read…

Following the bestselling release of Asking For It (2015), Louise O’Neill’s new novel, After the Silence, is set to match and exceed expectations in its success. The mystery novel, released in August 2020, details the life of Keelin Kinsella, and her involvement (or lack thereof) in the murder of Nessa Crowley, and takes place on the small island off the coast of West Cork, Inisrún.

The novel is written with stunning detail and depth. The underlying current of a decade-old unsolved murder weighs more on your shoulders with every passing chapter, and the jagged, unforgiving coastline of Inisrún is a character in itself. The landscape is featured beautifully in the novel with the grey coastline, cool and unforgiving, separating everyone on the island from the rest of the world.

O’Neill took inspiration for the novel from the West Cork podcast, which discusses the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in 1996. Similar to the case, the novel also deals with a murder without charges, and is a great choice for anyone who enjoyed the podcast. It is especially good for Irish readers as there is an affectionate use of the language in the novel. The Irish in the novel is used to draw a clear line of separation between Keelin and her husband Henry, who is from the UK.

The novel follows Keelin and the Kinsella family ten years after the murder of Nessa Crowley, as a documentary crew descends upon the shores of the island to find the truth.

Keelin, a victim of domestic abuse from her previous marriage, has been happily married to Henry of the Kinsella Group, a large international hotel group. The reader is led to believe this is her second chance at happiness, but shallow cracks appear at the beginning, and with it, a hint that suggests Henry was at one point the key suspect of the murder of the Crowley girl.

The family has been ostracised by the other residents of Inisrún, convinced that Henry Kinsella murdered one of the village’s brightest and that his wife is involved in the cover-up. This, combined with the uncomfortable emotional abuse and control Keelin has to suffer through, leads the reader to believe something is amiss, with a shocking twist at the end, sealing more than one fate.

The novel deals eloquently with the topic of abuse and the many forms in which it can manifest itself. It also takes a bold look at sociopathy, a pattern of personality traits such as narcissism, egoism, lack of empathy, and control, which seem to show in the mind and mannerisms of Henry Kinsella.

The novel ultimately follows the murder of a young woman and the subsequent loss of the innocence of a town once untouched by darkness. Though there are many subplots that enrich the reader’s experience. I found the most compelling subplot to be the internal struggle fought by Keelin, as her life became less and less her own. This is truly a novel that makes you think while adding in plotlines dealing with connected family trees and small communities, which make an already quintessentially Irish novel even more so.

Where to read it…

I read this novel over the course of two nights in bed, in the Northwest of Ireland. Propped up by pillows below the double windows in my bedroom, the novel spilled out across my blankets, unwilling to contain the secrets of Inisrún for any longer. A light gust travelled through the vast space that was only filled by me turning pages and my dog snoring at the end of the bed. I felt warm here, despite the cold enveloping me as I fell further into the world O’Neill created. Every fifty pages or so I would stop and take a break, and to her dismay, wake my dog up to feel a little bit less like an island. My mind started conjuring theories of what happened on that night, all too similar to the one unfolding just on the other side of my pink rose curtains.

I fell asleep before the safety of the morning brought light and woke with the words ‘mó storín’ still warm in my mouth, as though I had been saying them all night. I left the book in my room, as I was not capable of bringing the island downstairs to my actual life. I returned to it when the anonymity of darkness cloaked the landscape and settled into the last bit of the story. Every so often I looked over my shoulder to make sure our only neighbour kept his kitchen light on. The light was my company on the second night, like two buoys among an enveloping sea of unknown.

Reading the climactic scenes of the novel, a thought crossed my mind: should I stop and finish the novel in the morning, for fear I would not sleep? But I bargained with myself that I wouldn’t sleep without the answers I was looking for between the words of the enveloping story. When I finally turned the last page, I knew sleep wasn’t on the cards that particular night, for the room temperature started to inch upwards again. But I remained ice-cold stunned by the breadth of Inisrún and Nessa Crowley’s presence, which I have not since been able to shake.