Review: Inside, by Kenneth J. Harvey

Newfoundland. Jail. Released. Wrongful conviction. Myrden.

The short sentences above represent the writing style of Kenneth J. Harvey for his novel Inside. The story takes place in a small community in Newfoundland where Myrden has just been released from jail after being wrongly convicted. He is to be given a large settlement – the like of which is unimaginable to his selfish, disconnected wife, and worthless to Myrden, who has lost 14 years of his life to “the inside”. Harvey writes in the third person about Myrden, and how he can’t seem to acclimatize to life “on the outside.” Each sentence is (arguably) less than 140 characters which keeps the reader on edge throughout the entire book. I thought that this style would change as the book continued and Myrden’s character becomes more comfortable, but, alas, Mryden doesn’t have an easy go.

The book is ripe with mystery – I had questions the whole time I was reading it that I was really looking forward to having answered. If he didn’t kill the girl, then who did? What had happened that made him a prime suspect? What was his history with Ruth, the main love interest in the book? All of these situations were alluded to many times in the book, but most of my questions were never answered. Clearly that’s a choice that Harvey has made, but I think that there was just a little bit too much that was left up to the reader when I’d turned the last page.

What Harvey does accomplish brilliantly, however, is fostering a strong sense of sympathy towards Myrden’s character. Considering how distanced you feel as a reader by the short, abrupt sentences, I was surprised to find myself very attached to the main character during my read. I was inside his head – I knew why he was making the decisions he was throughout the novel. His empathy, care and love for his daughter, Jackie, and her daughter, Caroline are real and strong. The bond of friendship he has with his best friend Randy, who harbours a secret, is touching and completely plausible. I could see all these characters in my head as I was reading, and yet I didn’t feel at all like I’d read an excess of back story or, really, read any character development at all. They all simply just existed, and it was up to the reader to figure out who was who, what their relationships were and what was going on.

As I’ve written this review, I’ve realized I like the book more than I thought I did. I mentioned that I was left at the end with questions that I thought needed answering. I still believe they do. Well, maybe not all of them, but I do think that a bit too much was hinted at that was never referred to again or solved at all. I do think, however, that the book looks like it was an easy write: short sentences, not too much character development, etc, but I can clearly see now that Harvey probably took great care in these blunt sentences in order to give us just enough to get on board, while still making us work for the closeness we are granted with Myrden. Inside was longlisted for the Giller Prize and it was chosen as a Globe and Mail “Best Book.” I don’t know if I would have chosen the novel as an essential novel for Canadians to read, (it simply takes place in Newfoundland), but I do think that it’s a wonderful pick for readers that feel they’ve “seen it all.” The writing style, though tiresome at first, becomes entirely refreshing, and it is truly a treat to think back on your time reading the book. It also made me think about how it must feel to get out of jail after being wrongly convicted. Back to your regular life with a huge settlement? Wouldn’t that have been all you had craved while in jail? That someone would figure out you were actually telling the truth and that you were actually innocent? This book points out what I’m sure is the case in any situation like this – no money can make up for the lack of time you’ve lost. It can’t give you back the relationships with family and friends that have moved on without you. It can’t erase your memories.

I had no turn downs in this book, so I’ll give you a sample of the writing by showing you the first paragraph of the book:

They had made a mistake. They had realized. Everything he had moved through. The trail behind him. The institutional walls that kept him. The day in and day out. The tangle of men. It was meant to go away. Each step he took from his cell to the admitting office was fixed in his memory. Years of what was there and what wasn’t. If the thought came to him. He’d shut it off. The things that were missing. He tried not to feel himself moving. Tightened up against each action. Refused to see the eyes set steady on him. Being led toward 9 a.m. Release.

So book 11 is read, reviewed and I’m on to book 12! I’m planning on reading Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright. Stay tuned for some exciting news in my next post including a bonus review of Northern Light by Roy MacGregor and some sweet photos from my recent canoe camping trip in Tom Thomson’s old stomping ground.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. David B. says:

    Inside is on my list to re-read one day soon. I remember being incredibly irritated by the writing style at first, but it quickly captures the terse thoughts of an empty man. I loved the different meanings of 'Inside' in the book, mainly in jail and in his head and heart. I loved the last line of the book too. Inside is one of my go to recommendations from Can-lit. Nice review.

  2. Thanks, David, for the kind comment. I completely agree with the definitions of “inside” – so many meanings that one can glean throughout the novel.

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