By Leslie Lindsay
In the vein of blockbuster thrillers such as THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and THE GOOD GIRL and the GIRL IN THE RED COAT, among others, it’s no surprise that GIRL IN THE DARK jumped out at me recently.
Internationally bestselling author Marion Pauw makes a splash with her riveting mystery/psych thriller GIRL IN THE DARK (Feb 2016, HarperColloins/William Morrow).
This domestic thriller has taken the Netherlands by storm with its psychological twists, high concept plot, and unique characters…and now, the U.S. can get a glimpse.
Iris is a single mother struggling with raising her behaviorally-challenged young boy while working part-time as a lawyer. In a very deliberate, yet organic manner, Iris uncovers facts that lead her to believe she has an older brother her mother never spoke of (NOT a spoiler, this is mentioned on the jacket flap). What’s worse, is this brother is institutionalized for a horrific crime he did not commit. Or, so he says.
Ray, meanwhile tells his story, through the eyes of a loveable, but “off-kilter” grown man in an autistic unit at a hospital. He loves fish. He’s obsessed with his saltwater aquarium and knows everything about it. Through flashbacks, we become the fabric of Ray’s life before his crime, we meet the woman and her young daughter who live next-door, and the family secrets buried so deep they’re bound to resurface.
And they do.
GIRL IN THE DARK is an irresistible combination of suspense and murder, lies, unrequited love, and the complicated bonds of family that survive–perhaps, barely–in the face of insurmountable odds.
I’m honored to welcome Marion Pauw to the blog. Thank you for joining us, Marion!
Leslie Lindsay: I know what’s haunting me about GIRL IN THE DARK—there are several images holding on like barnacles, as well as moral conundrums I keep thinking about. I don’t want to give it away, but I do want to know what was haunting you when you penned this story?
Marion Pauw: I always have been fascinated by nurture vs nature. What does it take to push a person over the edge to commit a horrible crime? Is there a scientific formula of personality traits x upbringing x events? In that way I am not interested in psychopaths or organized crime. I like thinking and writing about normal people who trip over the edge. Because of course I wonder if it could ever happen to me.
The other thing is that it would be the most horrible thing in the world to be confined to a mental institution for the criminally insane if you were innocent. Being in a prison would be bad enough, but this would be an even bigger nightmare as you are not sure if and when you will ever get out. In the case of Ray, being the way he is, he would have a hard time defending himself as he cannot read between the lines and has a very linear way of thinking. Because of him being different, his conviction would always include spending time in an institution.
L.L.: I really liked Ray. I know he’s been accused of this horrific crime and comes across as a little weird, but he’s likeable. And I think, autistic. In all honesty, I think I’ve read maybe two other books with an autistic protagonist. Where did the idea for Ray come from? Can you share a bit about his development with us?
Marion Pauw: My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was small. I as a mother always felt we were trying to push the round shape through the square shape of the block box. It was at times very frustrating because our whole system is built around a certain range. If you are too far on either side, there is just no place for you.
I wanted to give a 360 degree view on what it would be like to have Asperger’s. Having said that, nowadays I have a different view on Asperger’s when while writing the book. A visit to an indigenous tribe in Panama with my children changed a lot for me. I remember arriving and my daughter, my ‘normal’ kid took one look at the bare chested women and men wearing loincloths and said : ‘OMG mom, I don’t know if I can get used to this.’ Not my son. He got out of the boat and from that moment on he was there. I mean, really there. He would be fishing, playing soccer with an old torn ball, roaming around the jungle with the other kids. And at times I would have lost him and would find him in someone’s hut laughing and teaching each other local words. It was amazing to see this. And at that moment I realized: my son is not an autist, he is just a nature person.
When you come to think of it, if you lived in the jungle, all your senses would have to be wide open. You would have to be able to smell your prey, hear the faintest ruffle of the wind, see the bird hidden in the tree. Then imagine having to live in the modern day world with senses that wide open. If you would hear, see, smell, feel everything, all these details, you would go absolute nuts. You would have to find ways to protect yourself. You would figure out rituals to soothe yourself, you would try not to make too much contact. All these symptoms we like to place in the autistic spectrum. So in my point of view, autism is not a disorder, it is a matter of being wired differently. And you have to create circumstances where your wiring helps you flourish in stead of lock down.
One more thing: imagine placing a real city kid in the jungle. He would probably show some very disturbing behaviour and the indigenous people might think he had a disorder.
“Gut-wrenching and relatable. A must-read for fans of character-driven stories, such as Tana French’s Faithful Place.”
L.L.: Speaking of protagonists…the way I see GIRL IN THE DARK, there were dual-narrators, Iris and Ray. Others will argue that there can only be one protagonist in a story, one single person we are fighting for, but still…I didn’t see it that way. Can you speak to that, please?
Marion Pauw: Haha, this actually is the first time someone has ever said that to me. I like having two narrators as you can see them coming closer to each other throughout the book.
L.L.: What kind of writer are you? Do you let the pen do the leading, or do you carefully craft plot?
Marion Pauw: I really admire people that have the discipline to plot out the whole book and have a wall full of post-its. I have been doing screenwriting as well, and then I am forced to work that way and I am always so relieved when I can just start writing instead of plotting! I really love the process of being behind my desk and trying to let inspiration take over. I like being surprised! But on the other hand, I always do make a basic outline, because you have to have some point at the horizon.
L.L.: So revisions…I’ll be the first to say that I hate them. There are many writers who say things like, ‘write a junky first draft; just get it down.’ And then there are people like me who say, ‘make the first one pretty good so you don’t have to do much work later.’ Where do you stand on this?
Marion Pauw: I am a ‘real shitty first draft’-kind of writer. I believe I read this in Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird. Whenever I try to write something really good, I get so stressed out, I completely lose my mojo as a writer. When I write my first draft I just make myself go from a to z on intuition. After that is done, the real crafting begins. I also like that phase, because then I am not so worried about if I will be able to complete the story. I know I have, all I have to do now is make it better! I think it is very normal for a writer to be totally insecure, as the pressure is so high. You just have to figure out ways to encourage and soothe yourself every day. I have also had writer’s block for a couple of months. I felt like I was a little kid trying to make a drawing while behind me there were people looking over my shoulder saying ‘Now draw, dammit’. I had to go into therapy to get over that. Seriously.
L.L.: As a writer with two young boys, what do you find the most challenging aspect of balancing your writing life?
Marion Pauw: My kids are almost mature now. My son is 17 and my daughter is 18. This makes all the difference. Now I can just give them money and say ‘It’s your turn to get groceries and cook.’ But that is just the practical part. Honestly I feel super guilty for being so preoccupied with my work so often. When I am writing, I am just not completely there. A part of me is always wondering off, thinking about the story. My kids can sometimes talk to me and I do not completely hear what they say. Or they go to school and I realize I have not one time really looked them in the eye. I really do not like that about myself, and I am trying to do better. What I really prefer is just going somewhere for a month by myself and just write, write, write. In that way I can get a lot of work done and by the time I come home again, I am more present.
L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Marion Pauw: Right now I am actually studying! I had wanted to do something completely different for a while and I had done this body based therapy that really helped me, so now I am doing the course myself. The whole theory is that the body cannot lie. You can fool yourself thinking all kinds of thoughts, but your body will always tell the true story. Also lots of old emotions get stored in the body etcetera. It is super interesting. After I have finished this study of 4 years, I would like to write a book on this subject.
L.L.: What might have I asked, but forgot?
Marion Pauw: Ehmmm. ‘Is it true that all people in Amsterdam smoke pot?’ Haha, that is what most people ask me when they hear I live in Amsterdam. The answer is no, by the way.
L.L.: Marion, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Just loved GIRL IN THE DARK and wish you the best of luck!
Marion Pauw: Thank you, Leslie!
About the Author: Marion Pauw is an author and screenwriter. Her novel DAYLIGHT (aka GIRL IN THE DARK) won the Golden Noose Award in the Netherlands and has sold more than 200,000 copies in Europe. GIRL IN THE DARK is her US debut. Pauw is one of the bestselling writers of The Netherlands whose books have also been published in Germany, Turkey, Italy, Hungary, and now the U.S. She made her debut with Villa Serena in 2005. Her big breakthrough to a wider readership and the critics came with Girl in the Dark (2008). The Dutch film rights for the book were sold to Eyeworks and successfully adapted to a movie. Next, she wrote the thrillers Sinner Child, Jet-Set and Kicking the Bucket. As a screenwriter, Pauw has adapted several series for Dutch television, including In Treatment and Diary of a Callgirl. Pauw lives in Amsterdam with her two children.
[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow. Asperger’s image retrieved from on 5.4.16. Nature vs nurture retrieved from on 5.4.16]