Nessa Crowley’s murderer has been protected by silence for ten years.
Until a team of documentary makers decide to find out the truth.
On the day of Henry and Keelin Kinsella’s wild party at their big house a violent storm engulfed the island of Inisrun, cutting it off from the mainland. When morning broke Nessa Crowley’s lifeless body lay in the garden, her last breath silenced by the music and the thunder.
The killer couldn’t have escaped Inisrun, but no one was charged with the murder. The mystery that surrounded the death of Nessa remained hidden. But the islanders knew who to blame for the crime that changed them forever.
Ten years later a documentary crew arrives, there to lift the lid off the Kinsellas’ carefully constructed lives, determined to find evidence that will prove Henry’s guilt and Keelin’s complicity in the murder of beautiful Nessa.
In this bold, brilliant, disturbing new novel Louise O’Neill shows that deadly secrets are devastating to those who hold them close.
CW: this book contains mentions of domestic abuse, violence and death.
After the Silence really surprised me. I went in expecting a murder mystery/thriller and was surprised to find that this was actually a rather minor element. Instead, this book focuses a lot more on interpersonal relations and, in particular, domestic abuse in all its forms.
In a sense, this book is a character study much more than a thriller, as Keelin and her controlling husband Henry take centre stage and their relationship is laid bare before our eyes. The characters are beautifully fleshed out, as their connections are slowly revealed and untangled. Keelin is a particularly fascinating and complex character. Throughout most of the book, I simultaneously sympathised with her and found her very irritating: that’s how you know this was a character done right!
I loved how the author managed to peel off all the layers of appearance which cause Keelin to be resented and shunned by her fellow islanders: as the rumours go, her loyalties now lie with her “blow-in” husband who is clearly guilty of murdering young, beautiful Nessa Crowley, because he can give her money, clothes and a big house. Instead, we get to see underneath all that to the true nature of their relationship and all the nuance that is there. It would have been really easy to paint the usual, stereotypical victim of domestic abuse with no agency, but the author managed to show exactly how complex these situations and dynamics can be, and just how strong Keelin is despite (or maybe because of) everything she endured.
The island setting also worked perfectly. The island becomes at times almost a character in itself, as it heavily influences both the events and the characters themselves. I could almost see the setting it was so beautifully described, and at times I felt the deep limitations of life on this tiny island, almost to the point of it causing some sort of claustrophobia.
The use of the Irish language throughout is the only thing that left me a bit uncertain. While I loved seeing it and I appreciate the effort to remain authentic to life in the region where the book is set, the use of Irish words and expressions seemed a bit uneven throughout the book. Initially, every little word is explained as requested by the documentary makers, but as the story progresses there are whole sentences that are just not translated or explained at all. There also seemed to be no clear reason for why a certain character would use an Irish word at any given moment, which contributed to the feeling that they were slightly randomly chosen. Nevertheless, this didn’t take much away from the pleasure of reading the book for me, aside from the odd googling.
The structure also took a bit of adjusting, as the book alternates present and past events, interspersed with extracts from the interviews which would be included in the documentary on the case. I needed a bit of time to fully get into the swing of this, but once I did, I was completely absorbed in the story and couldn’t put the book down. I particularly liked the introduction of the documentary interviews, which contributed to give this more of a true crime feel. Coincidentally, I finished this soon before Sophie: A Murder in West Cork was released on Netflix, so that it was almost impossible for me not to link the two in my mind.
As for the murder itself, that was probably the most underwhelming aspect of the whole book. Nessa Crowley was quite poorly characterised, coming across as a very stereotypical “other woman” so that, despite everything, it was very hard to care deeply about her tragic fate. The reveal was also not all that surprising, given how few the suspects actually were. This disappointment might be down to the fact that I was expecting more of a “whodunnit” and an active investigation by the documentary makers and this is definitely not this book.
After the Silence was still a very interesting and gripping read, even though it was not at all what I was expecting it to be. Best suited to those looking for a book focusing more on complex characters than a thriller, though it does contain some heavy content (mostly around domestic abuse), so maybe give it a miss if that might be triggering for you.